How the tourism lessons learnt in 2021 can help recovery in 2022
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South Africa's tourism sector has had its fair share of challenges these past two years. Businesses shut their doors, planes stood idly on runways for months, and people became more acquainted with their homes as a result of Covid lockdowns and travel restrictions.
Of course, the damage was severe with billions of rands in revenue and more than 300 000 jobs lost since the outbreak.
Senior Area Vice President for the Middle East and Africa at the Radisson Hotel Group, Tim Cordon, said the tourism and hospitality sector needed to fight the urge to go back to the way things were before “coronavirus” became a buzzword.
“When restrictions on travel and leisure were lifted early in 2021, the South African tourism industry let out a cautious sigh of relief. However, things returning to a sense of normalcy is not a sign that we can become complacent and go back to the way things were because the world, its economies, and people are not the same as they were before the pandemic.
“The sector needs to take stock of the lessons learned over the course of this year and apply them to the changing industry so as to not only revitalise but re-imagine it," he said.
Digital is no longer a nice-to-have
The pandemic has fast-tracked digital transformation across industries, including the tourism industry. Technology, for example, enables businesses in the sector to tackle the challenges head-on.
Head of marketing and communications at travel tech company Jurni, Tshepo Matlou said the major disruption brought on by the pandemic presented an opportunity for businesses in the tourism and hospitality industry, and SMMEs, to leverage powerful emerging technologies like AI and the cloud, to become stronger and more profitable in a post-pandemic economy.
Matlou said integrating new technologies allowed the industry to create and deliver new and more personalised products and services to ever-changing changing consumers.
Cordon said consumers could expect personalised products, services, and experiences. "Digital technologies enable such personalisation and convenience and in the long run, make customers feel more valued by the business,” he said.
Lean into local
Based on travel behaviour in previous crises, Cordon is confident that local leisure travel will recover quicker than international travel.
"Offering incentives such as discounts on guest rooms, free upgrades, added value and booking flexibility that allows for free cancellation will entice more people to travel more frequently within the country,” said Cordon.
lt also meant honing in on and celebrating local culture, people and environment where your business is located.
Collaboration is key to reinvigorating tourism
CEO of Motsamayi Tourism Group, Jerry Mabena, said South Africa’s tourism industry was in dire need of renewed investment to support its recovery, and to ensure that the sector can meaningfully contribute to the economy.
“The only way to achieve this is to prioritise and cultivate robust private-public partnerships where both sectors are working together towards a common goal.”
The industry also needs to cater for the changing behaviour of travellers and tourists who seek isolated and relaxing travel experiences, or travel while working without it cutting too deep into their pockets.