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Tourism Recovery in South Africa

On 26th March 2020, all travel came to a sudden standstill as the government implemented a nationwide lockdown in efforts to save as many lives as possible from a severe pandemic, we now know all too well as COVID-19. The effect of the lockdown has been felt by millions around the world and it has impacted almost all industries, including our beloved travel sector in South Africa.


According to the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, the tourism industry provides jobs for approximately 1.5 million people in South Africa. Around 375,000 jobs are related to inbound tourism of which 40,000 jobs are estimated to have already been lost since the beginning of lockdown. This number is very likely to be much higher.


Now that we are seeing lockdown restrictions slowly being eased, business travel allowed and provincial, leisure travel on the horizon, you may be wondering – how long will recovery take? What will the future of tourism look like? Will travel trends return to normal or change forever? I believe that travel will return to a new kind of normal.


According to Robin Rossman (STR Managing Director), the South African travel industry is similar to China in that there is a fair amount of domestic demand. Because international demand for travel is going to take much longer to recover, domestic demand is going to keep the South African tourism industry in motion.


Due to domestic demand, China’s hotel occupancy took approximately only four months to recover. Comparing this to what Maribel Rodriguez (WTTC Senior Vice President) says in a HotelBeds webinar (see figure 1) on recovery times for disease outbreaks worldwide, if South African hotels follow a similar trend to that of China we will most certainly be doing much better than the average recovery time noted in 2018.

This is based on current trends and depends entirely on when the South African government allows for leisure, provincial travel once more.


Figure 1: Disease or Outbreaks Average Recovery Duration (HotelBeds)


So how can we as hoteliers be prepared for this domestic demand? And what can we do right now while there is still very little demand? Firstly, it is important to understand that guests are not going to be looking at travel in the same light as they once were. Theresa Prins (Revenue Resolutions), a well-respected revenue specialist in South Africa, believes that during the beginning stages guests will be looking to hotels that they trust and hotels that are committed to providing a clean, safe experience.

Philip Wooller (STR Area Director Middle East, Africa) also gave us some insight into what guests will be looking for as well namely remote and less popular destinations, outdoor and natural destinations, and guests looking to visit friends and family. I believe that South Africa can capitalize on all these travel trends.


Paul Anthony (HotelBeds Commercial Excellence and Global Partnerships Sourcing Director) speaks about domestic travellers being very last-minute bookers. Michael Savage (Director American Airlines Vacations) mentions that the two most popular things guests need to be assured of when they travel are – that travel is safe and that if something changes then the guest has the flexibility to rebook at another time.


HotelBeds also conducted a poll on whether the new health and safety measures will remove fears that might stop people from travelling. 61% (of the approximate 1 000 webinar attendees) agreed that the health and safety measures will mostly remove fears that might stop people travelling.


Now that we understand a little bit more about the guests who will be travelling and what they will be looking for, hoteliers can start to paint a picture on how to be prepared.

  • From an operational perspective (and maybe this is a bit obvious), but make sure your hotel has all the health and safety measures put in place before you welcome guests back.

  • Double-check your personal protective equipment as there is a lot of inadequate or ineffective equipment currently being sold.

  • Check your most recent guest reviews for mention of any cleanliness issues and sort these out ASAP.

  • Examine your standard operating procedures, for example, checking in a guest. Can this be done more efficiently or with fewer touchpoints? Would your guests prefer online check-in now rather?

  • Tailor your product offerings to attract domestic and last-minute travellers. This could mean adjusting your pricing strategy, for example, country-specific or mobile rates. Be careful not to discount too heavily or you risk brand damage. Also, keep in mind the increased expenses that come with all the health and safety equipment you now need.

  • Create experiences or packages that are attractive to domestic bookers.

  • Communicate with your guests and travel partners on what your new procedures are and if you have new offerings, make sure they are in the know as well.

  • Lastly, this is a great time to re-think distribution strategies. Are there any new online channels that you would consider connecting to?

I hope this information proves to be insightful and serves to encourage those in our industry. It is important to remember that we are all in this together. With all that is going on in our country, it is easy to become disheartened and lose hope. I am here to tell you - do not to give up! This industry teaches us to be adaptable and versatile and I believe that is just what will encourage travel once more.


Samantha Webster | LinkedIn

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