What SA's first festive holiday season will look like during the pandemic
December and January is South Africa's peak travel season. However, things will look quite different this year due to the pandemic.
The question remains: what does this first festive season since Covid-19 look like and how has it affected SA’s hospitality sector?
Neil Markovitz, CEO of Newmark, a hotel management company with a diverse collection of hotels, residences, reserves and lodges in South Africa, East Africa, the Indian Ocean Islands, offers some insider insights into travel trends and preferences this year.
He believes that fear remains a factor.
“A key travel barrier that did not exist in the pre-Covid era is fear. Some are afraid to be in contact with those possibly infected and would prefer to stay safe in their homes. Because of this, we are of course seeing a decrease in the number of bookings being made this year as to a normal season in previous years," he explained.
Markovitz said that people remain uncertain about possible changes in lockdown restrictions and how this may affect their travel plans so many hold off their bookings until the very last minute.
"Bookings tend to be made last-minute and for a shorter period than in other years, with a marked spike in booking between Christmas and New Year’s, tapering off quickly again in early January," he said.
Then, there is the issue of international travellers. According to Markovitz, despite international borders opening up, the hospitality sector is not seeing a significant influx of foreign travellers this year, with bookings being predominantly from domestic holidaymakers.
“There is a sprinkling of international bookings coming through with lots of enquiries for next year. Our main inbound international markets are restricted by their lockdowns. It has been quieter than we hoped, but we are confident that the vaccine will show a bump in bookings from foreign travellers in the first quarter of 2021," said Markovitz.
Another change brought about through Covid-19 is the need to avoid large groups and busy spaces, which means that the celebratory events that would normally see spikes in bookings are not taking place. “This year there are no big Christmas or New Year’s Eve parties as people adhere to safety protocols.
“Covid has also changed travel preferences, and we have seen that holidaymakers are looking for less crowded destinations where they can worry less about contracting the virus.”
“For example, the Karoo has seen a spike of interest with its wide-open spaces and clear skies."
Markovitz advised that holidaymakers are feeling the pinch after a tough economic year. He said travellers were searching for special offers and travel deals.
“Local consumers are looking for value-added offerings and deals.
Moving forward, fear and uncertainty will be the central factors in travellers’ decisions regardless of the rate of transmission in a particular country. The only way to ensure holiday-makers book to stay at an establishment is to reassure them that their safety is of the utmost importance,” said Markovitz.
He added that the new norm is cleanliness and sanitisation. "Comprehensive health and safety protocols and systems need to be in place as it is the then will travellers feel confident enough to set out on their vacation.”