Garden Route tourism in crisis after beach closures, accommodation cancellations
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Cape Town – Coastal towns identified as Covid-19 hotspots along the Garden Route and in the Eastern Cape are reeling as tourists cancel holiday bookings after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the closure of popular beaches.
Plett Tourism acting chief executive Patty Butterworth said: “The negative impact of the Garden Route beach closure announcement has already started. Accommodation cancellations have been confirmed and more cancellations will undoubtedly follow, causing further damage to our local economy.
“We are in a complete state of shock. The news makes no sense. Closing the beaches will play absolutely no role whatsoever in curbing the spread of Covid-19 in the Garden Route in that there is no evidence of the spread of the virus on our beaches.
“On the contrary, by closing the beaches and encouraging individuals to restrict their activities to the town and other areas, there is a risk of overcrowding in areas such as restaurants and shops and an increased chance to cause spread in other areas which are of concern.”
Plettenberg Bay welcomes approximately 35 000 tourists over the festive period. The cost of the cancellations are expected to run into millions of rands, which could lead to more job losses and businesses closing. This is yet another blow for the tourism industry which was among the hardest hit during the initial hard lockdown in March.
Knysna Tourism chief executive Colleen Durant said: “After the president's announcement on Monday evening we have seen 415 online cancellations and these cancellations are to the value of around R4 million. But these losses could differ because many of the accommodation businesses have lowered their rates to make up from the losses so it could be around more or less R10 million.
“The beach closures would have a fundamental impact on the surrounding businesses and there is very little we can do about it.”
In areas with the highest rate of infection, beaches and public parks will be closed for the duration of the festive season from December 16 to January 16, 2021.
This applies to all of the Eastern Cape, as well as the Garden Route district in the Western Cape. In KwaZulu-Natal, beaches and public parks will be closed on what are traditionally the busiest days of the season.
These days are December 16, 25, 26 and 31and January 1, 2 and 3.
According to the Provincial Government, many small businesses have suffered a 100% cancellation rate within the first 24 hours of the amended regulations being promulgated.
Premier Alan Winde said: “The decision to close these beaches for the entire festive season will deal a devastating blow to the region's economy, which is highly reliant on tourism for survival. This will result in major job losses and this is of great concern to us. It is also not based on rational, scientific evidence.
“I wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa requesting that he give urgent consideration to the amendment of the disaster management regulations in terms of which beaches in the Garden Route district have been closed.
“During our consultations with President Ramaphosa prior to the promulgation of the amended regulations, we outlined our position that beaches must remain open.”