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South Africa’s Tourism Industry Preparedness for Post COVID Era

by Neeta Baporikar - 23 July, 2020, 12:00 143 Views 0 Comment

Background

Tremendous amounts of resources and investments are made by both the government and the private sector in the travel and tourism industry. Long term planning and resource development are also essential (Baporikar, 2020a). Hence, effective strategies and preparedness for the tourism industry post- coronavirus (COVID) is crucial and need of the hour as the COVID-19 crisis halted tourism worldwide. The United World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) regions have experienced more than 65% destination complete closure and Africa stands at 74%. UNWTO predicts a 20-30% decline in global international tourist arrivals this year. Before COVID-19, Africa was the second-fastest-growing region for tourism. An increase of 4.2% in travelers’ numbers in 2019 and 3-5% in 2020 had been forecast. But as COVID hit, airports were shut down and tourists stopped arriving, the industry was forced to pause. Many countries also imposed lockdowns, shutting down hotels, tour companies, event centers and public transportation.

Current Scenario

Infectious disease outbreaks, including COVID, deeply jeopardize the tourism industry given its reliance on human mobility (Yang, Zhang & Chen, 2020). This is true with respect to the tourism industry in South Africa (SA). Further, it has to lead to absolute chaos due to the cancellation of international flights to the country since March and has been turmoil to move bookings, deal with many cancellations and activities to minimize losses to clients. This canceling and rescheduling trips could potentially translate into a loss of $30 billion to $50 billion in revenue for the continent’s tourism industry this year (Bulin & Tenie, 2020). But because of the increasing cases of the virus, Africa does not have much choice.

However, as countries begin to ease COVID-19 travel restrictions, South Africa hopes to welcome travelers in September 2020. While the UNWTO stresses the need for vigilance, responsibility and international cooperation, the organization has also committed to helping Africa in tourism to emerge from this crisis as an important pillar of economies, jobs and sustainability. In June 2020, tourism ministers from Africa, international organizations and the private sector met virtually to plot a united course for a stronger and better tourism sector. This meeting narrowed down on five key areas:

  • Unlocking growth through investment promotion and public-private partnerships (Baporikar, 2020b);
  • Promoting innovation and technology; travel facilitation, including enhanced connectivity and tourism visa policies (Baporikar, 2020a);
  • Fostering resilience, including through promoting safety and security and crisis communications; and advocate for “Brand Africa”

Essentials to South Africa Tourism Industry Preparedness for Post COVID Era

  • Reckon Slow Travel: It is still unclear when African countries will fully open up their borders to travel and tourism. While some countries are still operating emergency flights for repatriating citizens or some cargo flights, for most, international air operations remain grounded. That means when borders finally open up, travel will be slow and hence needs adjustments.
  • Enhance Holiday Destinations Attractiveness: As a lot of countries will be competing to get tourists to come to them, there is a need to enhance and deepen understanding the behavioral patterns of the new modern tourists and be able to fulfill those needs.
  • Proper Positioning: As a country in the African continent that is able to give all those requirements to the modern-day traveler with ensured safety and medical health facilities.
  • Prudent Costing of Packages: Offering low-cost tour packages including reduced profit margins ahead of the next couple of years to retain a significant amount of its customers and secure work ahead.
  • Rebuilding Destinations Need Co-ordination: The effects of the virus outbreak on tourism are likely to be asymmetrical and highly localized within countries, with some destinations more exposed than others. Even under normal circumstances, some destinations tend to be disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of such crises due to their high reliance on the tourism sector. This disparity is likely to be significantly exacerbated following the pandemic (OECD, 2020)

Tourism Future in South Africa

Tourism in the future is bound to become more digital and probably even virtual as technology will play a significant role. People will start to check into hotels virtually, buy on-line airline tickets, and check-in virtually. This means that tourism clients will become more independent. For example, they will want to do their own laundry or come to the hotels with their own cutlery. It will take the world tourism industry more than a few months to recover from the COVID effects, and for Africa, possibly longer. Yet, South Africa is already strategizing new policies to boost tourism in the post COVID era and the government is playing a proactive role with financial inducements to keep the tourism industry on track. Recently, South Africa’s Department of Tourism released a 200 million rand (about $11 million) relief fund for tourism, encouraging eligible businesses within the sector to apply. The fund, according to the minister of tourism, is to ensure the survival of hotels, resorts, restaurants, tour operators, and travel agents.

Conclusion

Travel and tourism go hand in hand, hence, the sector felt the pinch as soon as international travel restrictions began and countries started imposing entry bans. As countries begin to open, there is a delicate balance between saving lives and rebooting tourism. Not only is COVID a health challenge, but it is also a social and economic emergency. Therefore, there is a need for tourism-dependent countries to put in place mitigation measures. To conclude, tourism can be a platform for overcoming the pandemic as bringing people together, tourism can promote solidarity and trust. Hence, despite concerns, there is hope that the tourism industry, which generates billions of dollars for Africa, will bounce back strong.

Neeta Baporikar
Neeta Baporikar
Author is Research Focused Professor, Namibia University of Science and Technology, Namibia.

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