CAPE TOWN - The outbreak of the Covid-19 in South Africa in 2020 inflicted extensive damage to the economies of numerous countries, including ours.
The magnitude of damage caused by the pandemic is an eventuality that no one had foreseen, especially the jobs bloodbath which occurred in a short space of time.
With every sector or industry now working on recovery adjustment measures to adequately respond to the challenges brought about by the pandemic, the tourism sector has remained vulnerable ever since and suffered a great deal of revenue losses.
While no sector has been spared from the pandemic impact despite several government interventions to restore stability, numerous businesses which had been in existence for years collapsed as a result of the pandemic impact.
Many established businesses in the sector ranging from travel agencies, accommodation establishments, and other numerous tourist attractions have had to explore other means of survival to sustain operations to stay afloat financially.
These establishments adopted these measures not only to rescue their businesses from any foreseeable collapse but to also secure and save the threatened livelihoods of their respective personnel.
Notwithstanding the fact that a bigger chunk of our tourism revenue was generated from international tourists visiting our country, these figures have unfortunately plummeted significantly, reducing the sector to being almost the lowest contributor to GDP.
The above reality inevitably compelled our government to introduce measures to respond to the pandemic impact, with every department expected to outline its own approaches to mitigate the effects of the devastating pandemic.
What innovations or measures can be introduced to assist the department in achieving or supplementing already contemplated recovery plans?
The Covid-19 resurgence in infections has indeed necessitated a stepped-up government response to quell the consequent damage arising from the pandemic.
Most businesses in the sector have been adversely affected by the stringent restrictions and the pandemic at large, forcing them to consider tapping into other avenues for safety and continued survival.
South Africa boasts a plethora of reasons as to why international tourists flock to our shores which include the land, the rivers of life, the unique liberation history, the discovery of gold and diamonds, the winds of change, our national parks and game reserves, and the fauna to count just a few, is a rich tourism heritage worth preserving for enjoyment by generations to come.
The price factor is an aspect which must be carefully rethought from our local tourism businesses, although this might contribute to the decline of their targeted profit margins.
The beauty and reasons why all types of tourists internationally and locally continue to visit South Africa hasn’t been altered by the outbreak of Covid-19, but the financial fortunes of these business establishments have remained greatly threatened through the dramatic decline in visits.
Some of these businesses haven’t perhaps designed or tailored their price mechanisms to attract increased revenue from domestic tourists, and are consequently considered way too exorbitant to access.
However, the best possible approach to undertake would probably be price re-adjustments to accommodate local tourists, even at the most popular attractions like the Robben Island Museum.
If the potential local tourists based in Cape Town or those visiting do not know whether people can visit Table Mountain or a few museums for free on their birthdays, then this points to a lack of access to information to the wider public.
Just when these businesses were taking stock from substantial losses and implementing recovery plans, the new Omicron variant was detected, further hampering the gains made by some infant businesses to bounce back.
It’s rather unfortunate that this less potent variant was treated as if it originated in South Africa by the international community, judging by the placing of SA on the red list by the UK and Israel, among others.
The growth and recovery prospects of these establishments were further halted by these developments.
Added to the above for urgent intervention should be the South African government’s change in approach when it comes to the issuing of certain travel documents to visiting guests, which is characterised by somewhat unfair differential treatment of visitors coming from certain countries in Africa.
If we are to bolster the tourism-recovery trajectory in our country, visitors descending to our shores from anywhere in Africa for either tourism or business purposes, should be visa exempt.
An even-handed approach is needed when it comes to the treatment of potential tourists to South Africa, whether they come from Africa or America.
It wreaks of a pure neoliberal attitude to not require a visa from an American visiting SA for tourism or business purposes, but the regulations become stringent for Africans who want to come to South African for the same purposes.
The very same rich countries our government grants special treatment to are the same countries that do not hesitate to flag SA by putting us on the red list during a Covid-19 surge in cases.
A flexible look and review of our very own international travel regulations is urgently required to realise possibilities of reimagining our currently precarious tourism sector under the Covid-19 pandemic.
The notable silver lining which in my view undermined the darkness brought by the Covid-19 pandemic was to witness how local tourists flocked in droves to various tourism attractions in different parts of Cape Town, most of whom travelled from Johannesburg and Durban.
These people splurged huge funds on these businesses for their enjoyment and families’ entertainment from boat cruises to exploring beaches and many others.
This was a sufficient sign of preparedness to support local businesses from our local tourism clientele, despite certain policy reforms which must take place to accommodate ordinary citizens who wish to experience these attractions considered accessible to wealthy potential local tourists.
* Zwide is a former ministerial rapid response task team member in the office of the former Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Ms Lindiwe Sisulu. He writes in his personal capacity.