South Africa’s domestic tourism season will likely only start in December, foresees Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.

At the same time, the country’s international tourism season for 2020 will likely end up only having consisted of January and February, due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic which arrived in early March.

Experts have indicated that the pandemic might peak in SA in September after which it is expected to take at least two to three months for the situation to stabilise.

Kubayi-Ngubane is hopeful that her department, in conjunction with SA Tourism could have a tourism recovery plan ready by late May.

“We need to build incentives and be more focused on the domestic tourism market by, for instance looking at aspects like pricing for local tourists. For this one needs research and analysis,” the minister said during a webcast hosted by SA Tourism on Wednesday.

Sisa Ntshona, CEO of SA Tourism, foresees that the recovery of the local industry will likely be led by domestic tourism and business travellers.

Asked about job losses in the tourism industry due to the pandemic and resultant travel and social restrictions, Kubayi-Ngubane said one needs to keep a delicate balance between protecting people from the virus and enabling economic activities.

“Remember, if we do not manage the virus better, it will end up shutting the economy down as more and more establishments are forced to close due to the spread of infections,” she cautioned.

The Travel and Tourism sector faces a staggering 100 million jobs losses globally due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest research by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). This is a 30% higher estimate than the one they had about a month ago.

For Africa the industry body expects tourism industry job losses could go as high as 7.6 million. The council estimated that SA’s tourism industry provided jobs for more than 700 000 people by 2019. 

According to WTTC president and CEO Gloria Guevara, travel and tourism is the backbone of the global economy.

“Without the travel and tourism industry global economies will struggle to recover in any meaningful way,” she said in a statement.

The Department of Tourism has established a R200 million Covid-19 financial fund to help small and medium-sized businesses in the sector with a turnover of under R2.5 million. To receive aid, businesses would have to prove they are in distress because of the impact of the pandemic. Aid will be capped at R50 000 per business.

Trade union Solidarity and its civil rights associate, AfriForum, have challenged Kubayi Ngubane’s decision to use broad-based black economic empowerment scores to determine who is eligible for the R200m in emergency funding. A judgment in the case is possibly expected by the end of the week.

READ: Coronavirus | Data shows last of tourism industry as SA knew it

Kubayi-Ngubane finds it frustrating that she is has not been able to start distribution of the funds due the court case.

She explained that BBBEE codes have been adopted by the tourism sector and it is also the law of the country. She is, therefore, obliged to provide grants in terms thereof “otherwise I can be regarded as a rogue minister with huge consequences”.

“The tourism industry should ask itself what its understanding of the BBBEE requirements is. Do we think it is discriminatory or do we think transformation is not very important to the tourism sector?” she asked.

Furthermore, her department is providing assistance to the industry for claiming UIF due to job losses because of the pandemic. So far more than 25 000 such claims have been received.

Going forward

“We need to look at what measures we would need going forward. We are already having international discussions in this regard. A consistent theme is that countries need to develop a coordinated approach to support the tourism sector,” said the minister.

In her view, the tourism industry should also start segmenting itself in terms of low and high risk sectors of potential exposure and spreading of to the virus. The meetings and expo segment might, for instance, be seen as of higher risk.

It also worries her that some seem to blame travellers for bringing the virus to the country. She would not want international travellers to encounter “hostile communities” when they come here.

“What is out of our control would be the opening of borders, the starting of flights and what activities and areas are closed,” she said.

“Yet we do have control in terms of the input we provide by having our voices heard and that then leading to what becomes the regulatory environment for the tourism industry.”

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