Is this the final straw for SA tourism industry?
Recent data reports show how the South African tourism sector has been struck hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and the latest lockdown restrictions.
The Western Cape revealed that almost all its top attractions reflected a more than 60% drop in visitors over the peak tourism season.
A South Africa Tourism Survey last month stated that 58% of tourism and hospitality businesses were unable to service their debts, and 61% were unable to cover fixed costs in October last year.
The Western Cape is calling on the government to relax level 3 restrictions as it has led to business closures and jobs losses.
Western Cape Minister of Finance and Economic Opportunities David Maynier said the province recognised the importance of a strong summer season for the recovery of the tourism and hospitality industry which had been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic last year.
"We worked hard to ensure that the Western Cape was ready to safely welcome both international and domestic visitors.
The Western Cape positioned itself as an attractive destination choice for those looking for wide-open spaces and a variety of affordable and diverse experiences.
"However, we could not have anticipated the intensity of the second wave, both at home and abroad, that resulted in stricter international travel restrictions, route cancellations by airlines and the Alert level 3 restrictions.
“All have had a severe impact on the tourism and hospitality sector," he said.
Maynier emphasised that international arrivals were much lower than initially anticipated for the traditional peak season.
"Official ACSA passenger data shows that passenger recovery at the international terminal of the Cape Town International Airport in December 2020 was a mere 19% of December 2019 volumes. Aircraft were operating at only 51% of their passenger load factors (compared to 72% in December 2019).
"This partially explains why the hotel industry, which is highly dependent on international travellers, has still not recovered," said Maynier.
More shocking stats
He said STR (2021), which provides market data on the hotel industry, reported that hotel occupancy levels in the Western Cape were at 32.7% last month, compared to 68.1% in December 2019.
In Cape Town, five-star hotel occupancy levels were at 29% last month, four-star hotel accommodation at 34% and three-star hotel occupancy at 31% occupancy. Similar results were reported for the Garden Route and the Cape Winelands.
In terms of domestic travel, vehicle counts nationally indicated that there was a reduction in the number of overland domestic travellers during the season. Traffic volumes decreased by up to 27% on major highways.
The same trend was seen at our airports. The domestic terminal at Cape Town International Airport saw only 51% of the volume of travellers compared with December 2019.
A survey by NightsBridge, conducted after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of the Garden Route as a hot spot, found that a third of guest houses on the Garden Route had at least 50% of festive season cancellations. The study reported that 12.7% of bookings in the Western Cape were cancelled.
"These reports show the precarious situation of the tourism and hospitality industry.
“However, the summer season is not yet over, and we still have an opportunity to ensure the survival of businesses and jobs in the Western Cape if we can urgently relax the restrictions, specifically for the curfew to start at 11pm, the beaches to open and an easing of the alcohol ban," said Maynier.
He said he would write to Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane to ask for the immediate easing of restrictions.
These include curfew times, the closure of beaches, the onsite consumption of liquor in restaurants and similar establishments and permitting the tasting and selling of liquor at wineries and wine farms.