6 ways government can help recover ailing tourism industry
Jabulani Debedu, a senior consultant at BDO South Africa, has shed light on how the South African tourism industry can work towards recovery.
The once-thriving industry has taken a knock due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Debedu said that South Africa’s tourism sector is an important driver of economic growth. However, he added that it "lost its place in the pecking order of government’s priority sectors."
"The sector has immense potential to kickstart our economic recovery. Yet even though the sector contributed 8.6% to our GDP (R430-billion) and supported 1.5 million direct jobs before the pandemic, it was barely mentioned in the State of the Nation Address (SONA) and Budget Speech.
"After being a priority economic sector for the last decade, this omission reveals that tourism has lost its place in the pecking order of government’s priority sectors and projects. The government seems to have pinned its hopes on the private sector solving this problem," he said.
Debedu shared ways how the South African tourism industry can recover from the impact of Covid-19. These are his suggestions:
Prioritise frontline tourism workers
He said that the national vaccine rollout needs to be on par with vaccination rollouts in our tourist source markets.
"Vaccinated travellers will not travel to countries that have only vaccinated a small percentage of its population or do not yet have herd immunity," he said.
Make travel accessible
He said that the government should make South Africa more accessible to tourists and business travellers and revisit it's visa requirements.
"Other African source markets have been largely underplayed for years – especially as we tend to perceive most African visitors as business travellers or job seekers," he said.
"The continent is a huge growth market for our tourism sector. The Africa Free Trade Agreement alongside regional and international bilateral visa agreements should be capitalised in our favour. Through online and straight-forward e-visa applications we can build stronger relationships with our neighbours and encourage their citizens to experience our melting pot of history, culture, food and religion that is right on their doorstep," said Debedu.
Remote working destination
He believed that South Africa is primed to be an affordable long-term bleisure destination.
With remote working fast gaining popularity and many international travellers flocking to the country, there's plenty of places to work.
"South Africa is an ideal hub for workations similar to what we’ve seen in Thailand, Bali and Medellin, in recent years, especially if we ease visa requirements for long-term stays.
"South Africa has many competitive advantages in this regard, such as affordability, the weather which enables outdoor activities and being a low-density destination. Our country is well-positioned given our vastness, open spaces and geographic spread of tourist attractions. We need to showcase our beaches, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and remote destinations, such as the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Free State. Marketing our National Parks is also a good start. I foresee the safari becoming the new cruise," he said.
Debedu said marketing strategies should "tell the world that we're open for business."
He said allocating marketing spend to key overseas markets, namely USA, UK, Germany, Italy and France, will result in the greatest short-term benefits.
He added that emerging tourist markets, such as China, India, Brazil, Nigeria and countries in the Far East, should also be prioritised.
According to Debedu, the government should leverage the domestic tourism market to help tell South Africa’s story via social media.
"Recent years have seen a global trend towards authentic tourism experiences because tourists want to do what locals do. It’s a cost-effective marketing strategy that has greater reach and impact than putting up an impersonal advert in the London underground," he said.
He said there will be a demand for exclusive-use houses instead of tourist establishments.
"By late 2021 and early 2022, we will see trickles of foreign tourist inquiries from younger vaccinated intrepid travellers. We’ll surely see a return of swallows, who have houses in South Africa but live overseas. As of late 2022 and early 2023, we will slowly see an improvement towards pre-Covid tourist numbers," he added.