Webinar Tackles the Impact of COVID-19 on the Tourism Industry
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tourism industry led UKZN’s Corporate Relations Division to host a public webinar with industry experts on the topic: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Tourism Industry and its Recovery and Strategy Going Forward.
Facilitated by UKZN’s Professor Joram Ndlovu fromthe Cultural and Heritage Tourism programme, the panellists included Mr John Aritho, Chairperson of the Durban Chamber of Commerce Tourism Forum and General Manager of the Beverly Hills Hotel; Mr Mel Bongani Ntombela, Deputy Chairperson at the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry Tourism Forum and the Chairperson of INK Tourism; Mr Dinesh Naidoo, co-founder and Director of Serendipity Tours and president of ASATA (Association of Travel Agents South Africa); and Ms Ronelle Pillay, Revenue and Sales Manager, Tsogo Sun Hotels (KZN region).
The objective of the discussion was to gain an overview of the current situation, understand the impact of the pandemic on the sector and discuss measures to encourage tourists to visit South Africa in the future.
The panellists agreed that job losses are likely to reach about 75% by December with international borders only opening in February or March 2021. Pillay said that 22 Tsogo Sun hotels had opened since 22 June, with occupancy less than 5% but was growing. She remarked that post COVID-19, the world will be on sale and technology will continue to play a significant role when it comes to conferencing.
Ntombela noted that recent research on COVID-19’s impact on tourism businesses in townships and villages showed that 70% of businesses have retrenched employees, 30% will continue to do so if the situation persists and 13% have closed, with 58% stating that they will do so for good if the sector does not open soon.
Aritho added that smaller tourism operators and restaurants are shutting down by the day and that employers cannot afford to retain employees. He commended the government for the three-month tourism relief funds that ended in June as this enabled businesses to pay their employees, but added that he hoped government would consider extending it. Aritho said this month, most businesses would decide whether or not to shut their doors. He highlighted that three-quarters of employees in the tourism industry are female; job losses will thus affect the socio-economic fortunes and livelihoods of many families.
With regard to the way forward, it was highlighted that domestic tourism is KwaZulu-Natal’s major tourism sub-sector. Aritho said that it is important to get this market up and running by opening up domestic travel, provided it can be controlled. He said that it helps knowing that Durban has a relatively low number of infections and that hygiene has always been the industry’s priority.
On the issue of the industry considering to cut costs, it was noted that the first resort of most companies would be to cut jobs. Naidoo said that companies with no income still have overheads to pay. Pillay added that businesses have been forced to go back to the drawing board. They need to embrace agility and consider hybrid conferencing and cyber sales.
The panellists expressed confidence that all health protocols are in place and that it is now a matter of opening borders. However, tourists and workers needed to understand that they will be returning to a very different hospitality sector.
Recent efforts include constant communication with the minister to negotiate payment for the next three months to ensure that people are paid. Aritho said that tourism is South Africa’s biggest calling card and more pressure needs to be placed on government to acknowledge this. Pillay said she was proud of the work done by Tourism KZN. The province has much more to offer other than its beaches and it is important for the industry to plan the way forward and leverage Tourism Month. Naidoo urged the province and Durban Tourism to speak with one voice and send one message to the international community.
Aritho added that the people of Durban are extremely lucky to live where they live and it is time for the industry to strategise on how they will reach their markets.
The panellists agreed that there is a need to start thinking broadly about opening borders, that there is a need for a comprehensive recovery plan and that this is an opportunity for companies and industry to rethink their strategies.
Corporate Relations Acting Executive Director, Ms Normah Zondo, thanked the panellists for taking part in the webinar and Ndlovu for facilitating the robust discussions. She said that it is clear that the province and industry need to work together to reinvent themselves and take advantage of the opportunities presented by the pandemic. ‘Stay safe, we are going to travel again, and we will do so with a great sense of consciousness and unity,’ said Zondo.
Words: Sithembile Shabangu