Industry and government turn a corner in collaborating on recovery plan

After a rough start, the industry has managed to take a strategic approach backed up with hard data to lobby government more effectively on the benefits of considering an earlier end to the inbound travel lockdown. 

This was discussed in a Special Edition webinar by The Other Side, hosted by William Price, Chief Digital Officer at THE OMG, with panellists Monika Iuel, CEO of Private Safaris DMC Southern Africa; Robert More , CEO of MORE  and Margie Whitehouse, Chief Tourism Officer at WESGRO. 

Providing some context, Whitehouse explained that in the first few weeks of South Africa’s COVID-19 Risk Adjusted Strategy, the tourism industry was fractured. “We were fighting government and deeply concerned, but the good news is that in the last two weeks, we have come together and now understand what we need to do to open up the industry faster than what was originally envisaged.” 

Under TBCSA as the industry’s official organisation, three groups were formed: Inbound, Aviation and Domestic with each working to gather sector-specific data. All three panelists participating in the webinar were part of the inbound sector group. 

Iuel explained that there are various aspects that make the inbound tourism perspective so different from other sectors. “We have a long lead time and a substantial forward book for 2020. The hard work has already been done – we won the tourist interest and are sitting with confirmed bookings, but the longer we wait and unsure about the messaging in terms of reopening, the greater risk we place on the forward book.” 

Two surveys were sent out in quick succession to quantify the bookings already in the pipeline. “We found that it is still substantial, even though many said they will only do about 20% of budgeted turnover this year. Respondents also said they would be able to put almost R1bn worth of additional bookings back in the system if inbound travel is opened this year with some lead time,” said Iuel. 

An important point to consider is that the next six months are high season for South Africa. “Many businesses use the peak months to have cash in reserve for the leaner outlying months in the low season. Removing the ability to trade in high season of 2020 therefore not only means increasing the risk of the amount of businesses who will fall over in the lockdown period, but also those that will fall over in 2021,” explained Iuel. 

This was more urgent than some outside of the inbound sector may realise, as More points out that unless we get an announcement relatively soon, in the next six weeks, we will lose that forward book.” He explains that by the time we are in the last quarter of the year, people will be desperate to travel, and we are unlikely to be met with the same willingness we are currently seeing in terms of postponement as travellers instead opt for other destinations that are open. 

Aside from the contribution to GDP, there is also the matter of employment. Whitehouse says that according to the survey results, about 40 000 jobs out of 740 000 in South Africa’s tourism industry have already been lost. “Unless we open up skies as soon as possible, then 700 000 jobs are at risk,” she said.