SA tourism industry struggles to recover from Covid-19

Afristay recently conducted a survey that revealed that 41% of travel establishments are still severely affected by the pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an immeasurable impact on several industries in South Africa, one of the hardest hit being tourism.

Afristay, an online accommodation booking portal, conducted a survey last week to better understand the current situation within the travel industry.

It found that even though the industry has recovered to an extent, more needs to be done to help tourism get back on its feet.

Some of the most important findings are that only one in three travel establishments say business has returned to normal, while 41% of establishments say their businesses are still severely impacted by the pandemic. Just over half of establishments have returned to their normal staffing levels, with one in three establishments still operating with fewer than their usual staff.

The survey was sent to 15 000 establishments, of which about 700 sent their responses to Afristay. The company specialises in boutique travel accommodation across South Africa and its listings are primarily focused on self-catering units, holiday homes, B&Bs, guest houses and resorts.

About 90% of the responses came from South Africa, with the remainder from bordering countries, including Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique.

Travel experts weigh in

Rupert Bryant, CEO of Afristay, says severe damage has been done to the tourism industry and many jobs have been lost through businesses closing or reducing operations.

“I estimate roughly one in five travel accommodation businesses have shut down permanently across South Africa, and one in four jobs have been permanently lost.”

Bryant says he is cautiously optimistic about the year that lies ahead.

“We have a better understanding of Covid-19 and how to manage our lives around it, while also protecting those who are vulnerable. Government policy is also becoming more targeted and effective.

“It seems that the travel industry has returned to roughly 70% of its previous levels, and since we are learning to better handle Covid-19, it should allow the travel industry and jobs to return to their pre-pandemic levels within a year or two.”

Rosemary Anderson, national chairperson of the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa, says some businesses and restaurants are trading at pre-Covid-19 levels and some are even trading in excess of their incomes in 2019.

“However, this has not been seen in businesses that heavily rely on international tourism. They are still bleeding and struggling to hold on. Some four and five-star hotels have not opened since March 2020. The cruise line industry is also experiencing a very difficult time.

“The current compulsory PCR tests that our government has in place for all travellers entering South Africa is damaging and prohibiting the recovery of this sector and international travel in general.”

Anderson says there is a healthy appetite for local travel, but many people in South Africa simply cannot afford to take trips.

“We need international tourism. Currently, we have the compulsory PCR test, as well as the state of disaster in place, and the lack of an eVisa, which are dissuading international tourists from visiting our shores.”

Also read: COVID-19: National State of Disaster to come to an end

Bryant’s advice for tourism establishments to get back on track is to keep costs flexible and to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape.

“If there are future waves of Covid-19, aggressively deploy marketing once things re-open and offer deals to attract visitors.”

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