South Africa’s travel redemption story: Can we pull it off?
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South Africa’s once-thriving travel and tourism sector has been dealt a bad hand this past year and a half. In between the countless lockdown restrictions due to Covid-19, travel bans, recent violence and looting and travellers’ negative perceptions of crime, the industry has encountered some of its greatest adversities.
Now in its third wave, the travel and tourism industry has constantly battled the odds, with some sadly bowing out due to the heavy impositions.
The wine tourism industry, for example, had to shut their businesses for months due to alcohol restrictions, and top tier hotels, once the talk of the town with celebrity check-ins, temporarily halted operations. Jobs hung in the balance.
Despite this, the industry hung on, leapt forward with innovative ideas and ensured that the world didn’t forget about South Africa's massive appeal. As Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, chief executive of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), says: “This too shall pass.”
For Tshivhengwa, South Africa is turning a corner after the tumultuous looting and unrest this month. He is confident that the sector, like an eagle, will soar above this.
“We have gone through the worst as a country and this too shall pass. South Africa still remains an attractive and safe destination for local and international travellers. There is a lot more good than bad," he said this week.
“What happened in South Africa (the looting and unrest) is not unique to us. Many countries experience similar problems. What is vital to note is that we all came together in the face of mayhem,” he added. Tshivhengwa said the industry needs to do what they know best-extend their arms to all travellers and show them hospitality.
“Let us show them South Africa’s hospitable spirit. Their experience needs to be top class so that they want to visit again and encourage others to do the same.
“Let them see both sides of the coin. South Africa does tick all the right boxes. We need to show them why they should be here,” he said.
RoomRaccoon, a hotel management software provider, recorded a reservations surge for December last year and between February and May this year, immediately after the Covid-19 second wave. The company revealed that up to 60% of rooms were booked in these months, well above the benchmark of 30%. Niels Verspui, country manager at RoomRaccoon South Africa, believes there is light at the end of the tunnel. “Clearly, there is still an appetite for domestic business and leisure travel, even if most South Africans are unable to travel abroad for now. We expect to see a similar trend once the third wave has peaked and is in decline.
“Tourism business owners must not lose hope and should prepare for a similar rebound following the third wave,” he added.
One travel trip at a time
Natalie Knibbs, the owner of Africa Memories Travel, said people should not stop travelling out of fear. She encouraged people to venture out, especially with the many specials on offer to lure travellers.
“Tourism is a massive drawcard for South Africa. There are so many specials out there, so there is no reason why people should not venture out. The specials cover costs to keep doors open, to pay skeleton staff and to maintain their establishments.
“For international travellers who are unsure, request a tour operator to accompany you. They know our roads and destinations intimately and have relationships and contacts to ensure that your trip is safe,” she said