Getting ready for the great tourism bounce-back

By Stef Terblanche, Editor


Around the world, the tourism sector together with the associated travel and hospitality sectors have been devastated economically by the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant national lockdowns. In an instant, it seemed, the world as we knew it, including all our wonderful travel and tourism experiences, simply went away. Everything became silent and empty.

But now, as countries appear to be getting the pandemic under control, as they begin to open up and restart their economies, we are on the cusp of experiencing an exciting new world. Some refer to it as the “new normal”; I prefer to think of it as our “brave new world” that awaits. A world that is still full of so much wonder, so much beauty, so much to experience.

The most important thing, however, is that in the meantime we all need to stay on top of our game – strategize, improvise and be ready for when our local tourism sector starts reopening again. (See my previous newsletters/blog posts).

At the time of writing, tourism in South Africa, one of the country’s best national assets, had only taken a few small steps towards its opening up and revival, and still has a long and difficult road ahead. But there is much more than a glimmer of hope, and knowing how creative, innovative, hard-working, persevering and positive all our people in the tourism sector are, I know it is only a matter of time before our sector will bounce back with more vigour and more amazing offerings than ever before. Be ready for it when it happens!

Let’s recap for a moment

This vibrant industry, until just a few months ago, was one of the fastest growing sectors globally as it opened the world and all its incredible experiences to millions of travellers from every corner of the globe; filling the revenue coffers of countries everywhere; and employing millions of people. This was also true of South African tourism, with our country being one of the most popular and multi-faceted tourism destinations of the world.

And then, literally overnight, it all ground to a crushing halt. Just like that it all went away. As if some great unseen hand had come along and swept all human activity away. If you ever wondered what it might feel like after an all-out nuclear war has devastated Planet Earth, this is probably the closest you’ll come without an actual war and the destruction.

As South Africa entered what would turn out to be months of national lockdown, the planes stopped flying, buses and trains stood idle, and airports became ghostly places without people; the cities emptied as if all the people had fled somewhere and roads lay like motionless dead ribbons without cars across our beautiful countryside; the animals in our national parks and reserves became used to not seeing humans or their vehicles and the lodges shut down, the sights and sounds of visitors now just a memory; the Robben Island ferry and Table Mountain’s cable car were both docked with no passengers and therefore nowhere to go, and the V&A Waterfront’s Ferris wheel stood idle and its shops shuttered and quiet; people and their footprints disappeared from the golden beaches of St Lucia and Umhlanga to the white sands of Clifton and Camps Bay; the Wild Coast became truly wild again and so did the Garden Route, both now devoid of any visitors, hikers, surfers and backpackers; gone too were the tourist buses that used to criss-cross Soweto and Gugulethu, the wide-eyed visitors who came to the places where Nelson Mandela had lived, and those wanting to get closer to their human roots in the Cradle of Humankind; across the great plains, mountains and national parks from the Karoo to the Kalahari, the Richtersveld, the Free State, and the Waterberg, the only movement came from birds and animals, even the local human inhabitants were nowhere to be seen.

It shows how much we always so easily took for granted; how much we have yet to learn.

The lockdown going forward

As I write here, South African tourism still finds itself firmly in the grip of the national lockdown, albeit with some minor concessions and relaxation of the rules under Level 3. It certainly is not over yet.

Understandably the lockdown and the immense impact it had on businesses and workers in the tourism sector unleashed a range of emotions and reactions. People’s livelihoods were at stake. We here at Mzanzitravel also felt the pressures. Many people felt the lockdown regulations applicable to the tourism sector had not been thought through sufficiently, that some measures could have been adopted that would have allowed tourism businesses and service providers to continue operating even in limited form and subject to strict health rules. Even if there were no foreign tourists arriving, this could have been an opportunity for locals to experience some of our tourist offerings, it was felt.

Others felt the relief fund created for the sector by the tourism minister was inadequate, bogged down in red tape, or that the qualifying criteria discriminated against them. We here at Mzanzitravel also had some ideas of our own as to what could or couldn’t have been done. But suffice it to say, that we won’t judge our government and tourism minister. I am sure they were caught as off-guard by Covid-19 and as unprepared for how to deal with it as the rest of us and are trying their best under difficult circumstances.

Make your voice heard

We as industry stakeholders have an important voice and role to play. We need to get our proposals and ideas across to the minister and her colleagues and other decision-makers in the sector. I am sure they will welcome all the help they can get. All of us need to engage constructively with the minister and national as well as provincial governments, whether directly or via industry representative bodies like the Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA). Or one can engage via various professional organs, tourism associations and boards or one of the many forums and platforms created on social media and the internet.

For many in the industry the biggest problem is the uncertainty and confusion surrounding the ongoing lockdown, applicable levels and applicable regulations, as well as when one can expect the tourism sector to be reopened again. Different people in positions of authority have mentioned different dates, from September to December or even February next year. Some of the recent regulatory concessions such as allowing tour guides to operate have been made difficult or impossible to implement because of other clashing or contradictory regulations.

For those in need of greater clarity or looking for more information, below are some links to handy sites.

Some handy information resources

 

SA Government Coronavirus Portal   https://sacoronavirus.co.za/

Department of Tourism   https://www.tourism.gov.za/Pages/home.aspx

Tourism Business Council of SA   https://tbcsa.travel/

Federated Hospitality Association of SA (FEDHASA)   https://fedhasa.co.za/

South African Tourism   https://www.southafrica.net/za/en/

Reopening the tourism sector

The TBCSA recently lobbied Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Tourism to support its call for the gradual reopening of the tourism business in the country. The body warned that any further delays in easing tourism restrictions could result in the loss of about 600,000 jobs in the sector and it warned that South Africa could lose its global market share and position as a destination of choice if the sector did not reopen soon. The parliamentary committee, however, felt it was still to soon to reopen.

But the TBCSA did plead for greater certainty, such as the official announcement  of a date for the reopening of international travel for tourists so that the sector can start preparing and taking bookings. In turn the committee urged the TBCSA to devise tailor-made tour packages for SADC, African, and BRICS countries, saying this will be one of the strategies to boost the return of tourism and support its recovery and sustainability going forward.

Adapt and survive

The most important thing right now for anyone earning a living from tourism in South Africa, is to remain positive, be creative and innovative, adapt to the new circumstances, and design strategies for survival. Don’t get caught napping or be left behind when our tourism industry goes live again.

It’s a sad fact that some businesses and operations in our tourism industry probably cannot survive and have shut down permanently. Others may re-emerge, perhaps vastly changed, and some will struggle for many years to recover what was lost. But many in our industry saw opportunity in all of this adversity and came up with the most amazing survival and renewal strategies for their businesses.

What has once again struck and amazed me through all of these troubled times, was the resilience and innovative spirit of our people, especially those in the tourism industry. How could it be otherwise? Anyone who has taken his or her life’s savings and ploughed it into a wild piece of land, returning the animals and vegetation to their natural habitat, or built a lodge where others said it was sheer madness, is testament to this spirit. The same goes for every other property owner, service provider, tour operator or guide in the industry.

You can now share your business strategy to survive and be ready for the reopening with our readers. For instance, if you have special discounted packages for locals that they can book and pay in advance or secure by purchasing vouchers or have found ways to start doing limited tours or other operations, share them with our readers.

 

We have devised a number of very affordable lockdown advertising packages together with the opportunity to have your story plus pictures included FREE OF CHARGE in an editorial article in our magazine that will focus on industry specials and survival strategies. All you need to do is contact Mzanzitravel, select your discounted package and send us 250 words plus two high-resolution pictures depicting your business or service.

Share your survival strategies & special offers with our readers.

For more information on advertising packages plus free editorial content, contact Cheryl Pinter

Tel 021 761 6342  Cell 068 176 5750 Email cheryl@mzanzitravel.co.za

 

How Mzanzitravel has adapted to assist YOU

Prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mzanzitravel, focused strongly on the consumer segment of its readership, providing consumers with content of an informational, advisory, experiential and trip-planning nature, and providing marketers and advertisers with a platform to reach these consumers with their products, properties, establishments and services. As such the magazine showcased the best South Africa has to offer local as well as foreign tourists across the entire tourism value chain of destinations and activities, covering everything from little-known hidden gems, history and heritage, to adventure, sport, culture, wildlife, nature, cities, townships, rural areas, our human diversity and more.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, we have had to adjust our focus and business model significantly, like so many other businesses in the tourism sector. As a result, with so many tourism businesses being inactive and inaccessible due to the local and worldwide consequences of the pandemic, we have scaled down our consumer focus in favour of an enhanced B2B focus. As such we are providing a strategic and professional marketing and informational network and platform for all travel and tourism-related businesses, destinations, services, professionals and other related entities and activities, as well as for businesses outside the tourism sector that wish to engage with those in the sector.

In this regard, marketing and information-networking through the pages of Mzanzitravel has become an indispensable strategic business tool for businesses, operators and professionals in the tourism industry. It allows them to survive the pandemic, maintain a presence and relevance in the market, prepare for the post-Covid opening up of the sector and to offer alternative or temporary strategies, products or services both in the consumer and B2B segments.

Our digital magazine

As part of our adaptation strategy to get through the lockdown period, the next edition of Mzanzitravel – Issue 18 – will be in digital format only, available free of charge on our website at https://mzanzitravel.co.za/the-magazine/. This is because the lockdown has affected our own operations, printing and distribution among other things. So unless there is a dramatic and fast change in the current situation, there will be no print version of Issue 18, due out in September. However, we envisage that Issue 19, due out in December, will once again be available in both print and digital formats.

What’s in the next edition of Mzanzitravel?

Our next edition kicks off with the usual TravelBites section where we bring you interesting news and developments in the local, African and international tourism industry. From there we will hit the road in our regular ‘8 of the Best…’ feature, this time focusing on the eight best road trips in South Africa.

The next article is dedicated to people who work or have businesses in the tourism industry. In it we will carry your story (see our offer above) about what you are doing, or special packages you are offering, to beat the lockdown, survive and remain in business. This is a golden opportunity to remain relevant and in the public mind, and forward sell some packages or position your business so that you can resume normal operations the moment lockdown restrictions are lifted. Get ready now; if you don’t, it could take as much as 6 months without income to get your business operational again.

Then we have an article in which we speculate about what the businesses of the future under a ‘New Normal’ will look like – we look at issues like virtual preferences, working online, being home-based, adapting to new hygiene, health and climate change requirements, and more. And we also discuss the future of air travel and other future modes of transport in a changed world.

Next we visit Tanzania which has been among some of the first countries in the world to lift international travel restrictions and open its tourism sector. We take a closer look at how they did this. We also share with you our delightful visit to Tintswalo Lapalala in the remote and beautiful northern Waterberg region shortly before South Africa went into lockdown. Join us on this one for a  splendidly wild love affair of nature, complete with exquisite luxury, spellbinding wildlife and phenomenal scenery. This is followed by our regular Hidden Gems section in which we share the delights of some truly marvellous and perhaps lesser known destinations.  And finally, we introduce you to the Kruger 2 Canyon Biosphere Region.

Take care, stay safe and get ready for a brave new world of wonderful tourism!