The topsy-turvy environment of lockdowns, travel bans and a lack of travel sentiment in the world due to the sudden spread of the coronavirus pandemic has put the South African tourism sector on a journey in uncharted territory.

Tourism is regarded as a major contributor to job creation in the country. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates it directly contributes between R139 billion and R145.3 billion annually to SA’s GDP. 

A new report by the WTTC estimates that the global travel and tourism sector had a GDP growth rate of 3.5% in 2019, outperforming the 2.5% rate of global GDP growth for the ninth consecutive year in a row.

The sector is the global economy’s third highest in terms of GDP growth. In 2019 it supported one in 10 jobs (330 million) in the world, making a 10.3% contribution to global GDP and generating one in four of all new jobs.

Curve ball

But the coronavirus pandemic posed a curve ball, hitting many of the tourism sector’s related industries significantly.

South African Tourism (SAT) says it will not be taking the challenges posed by the pandemic lying down.

It is compiling a Tourism Recovery Plan for the sector, including a series of webinars to engage the tourism industry on solutions and scenarios going forward.

“We are taking this proactive approach to, hopefully, over time, influence the policy environment as it shapes itself after the Covid-19 global pandemic. We don’t want to be caught on the back foot when the gates do open again,” Sisa Ntshona, CEO of SA Tourism (SAT) said during a webinar the industry body hosted on Wednesday. About 2 000 people tuned in for the webinar.

“We find ourselves in an uncharted environment and we are going to need some uncharted solutions and suggestions from the industry.

“We have to identify those gems and pearls we need now,” he said.

“The saying goes that one should not waste a good crisis, and I think this is one of those times. Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring about unity. Tourism is government led, but private sector fulfilled. We have to all work together as a sector in terms of pricing and geographic spread.”

He foresees that some of the issues that the industry would like to have addressed in terms of policy, would include safety and security and visa barriers.

Other contributors to the webinar argued that the pandemic offered an opportunity to redesign existing business strategies. 

Jon Howell, founder and CEO of AviaDev, a platform aiming to bring together the aviation community, moderated a panel discussion during the webinar. In his view, the Covid-19 crisis brings an opportunity to reset and re-invent current tourism business models.

“It is time to take stock. To be dynamic and responsive. Use this time of crisis to innovate,” he said.

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