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Officials in South Africa’s private tourism sector are advocating for an earlier phased reopening for international travel to the destination, which is essential to economic recovery. Inbound tourism employs over 375,000 people in the country and it’s estimated that over 40,000 jobs have already been lost within the local tourism sector.
“We deliver 2.5 million overseas arrivals every year. The total foreign spend in 2018 was R120bn (€6.3 billion), and the inbound tourism industry contributes 8.7% of the total foreign exchange value of South African exports, second only to mining,” said Monika Iuel, CEO of Private Safaris, during a recent webinar on Unpacking the Inbound Recovery Strategy to Reopen International Tourism to South Africa. “Tourism provides 375,000 direct jobs in the industry, and 70% of those are women, and 60% of them are under the age of 35, which is incredible. We are also an employer of the semi-skilled and unskilled, which helps transform our economy and our society quite substantially.”
Although there are no dates set for when international travel can resume as South Africa is following a risk-adjusted strategy based on levels of lockdown, not dates, The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) is pushing to reopen international tourism to South Africa as early as September.
“The summer high season runs from September to March and represents 60% of the annual business for tourism. The nature of international inbound tourism is such that we have long lead times between booking and travel,” said Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of TBCSA. “One of the big things we had to do for us to convince the Government to open the industry was to come up with industry protocols. The first part of the opening is to get domestic travel up and running and to show that the protocols can be trusted. I firmly believe we are going to see more aspects of opening up in the next few weeks, if not days. The protocols are helping us to ensure that we say to Government that we are a responsible industry. We will open safely and make sure we protect our staff and customers and mitigate the spread of the virus. This is the biggest thing that the Government wanted to see from us, and we’ve done that.”
From an inbound international tourism perspective, the TBCSA is emphasizing the importance of tourism to South Africa.
“We’re not Government. We can’t open this up on our own. Government is looking to us for direction and guidance. And, in all the touch points that we’ve had around protocols, we’ve had a receptive audience. We need to take this up to the next gear, which is what we are going to do,” said David Frost, CEO Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA).
“Ultimately we’re going to have to land on a date. We’re hoping for a 1 September opening. But again, the 1 September is reliant on a phased approach,” added Rob More, CEO of MORE Family Collection, a fourth-generation family business, which owns and manages a private collection of luxury safari lodges and boutique hotels.
Key to the recovery process will be the resumption of international air access.
“We know how reliant we are in South Africa as a hub into not only sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Eastern Africa as well,” noted Margie Whitehouse, CEO of Wesgro, the Official Tourism, Trade and Investment Promotion Agency for Cape Town and the Western Cape. “Over 28% of our international arrivals travel to other parts of Southern Africa. So, to keep our hub and to position on the African continent, we need to get aviation going and get our recovery strategy into action as quickly as possible.”
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