Appealing to tourists post-COVID could mean not just keeping prices affordable but also making policies flexible. This follows news that a number of suppliers will hold their 2020 prices over into 2021.

Tourism Update posted a poll recently asking readers whether or not suppliers should freeze their prices and carry 2020 rates over into 2021. A substantial 65% of voters said ‘yes, the pool will be smaller and suppliers should do what they can to attract numbers’.

In a webinar hosted by Jumbari Family Safaris, CEO of Ker & Downey Africa Group, Lee Kelsall, agreed that while price would be important, flexibility would also be desirable to post-COVID travellers.

“A number of suppliers are considering freezing their rates from 2020 into 2021, and almost everyone we know is now offering some kind of flexible postponement and cancellation terms in the event that COVID continues,” said Kelsall. He also cited research done by his company in which 60% of participants said that flexible cancellation policies and refundable deposits were a prerequisite for choosing a destination.

Director of Gondwana Game Reserve, Wendy Rutherford, agreed with Kelsall and told Tourism Update that while no decision had been made on rates for 2021 just yet, flexibility had been made a priority.

She said any new bookings for 2021 made up until September 30, 2020, would be honoured at 2020 rates and that more importance was being placed on flexibility in terms of cancellation policies and payment of deposits. “Having to refund deposits puts us in a difficult position.” She said cancellation penalties and postponement of bookings had been considered to accommodate guests who might be uncertain of paying upfront.

To appeal to international guests, Rutherford said Gondwana tried not to base its pricing on exchange rates but agreed that in this case it might be beneficial. “I do think that in times like these, having a weaker rand makes South Africa a desirable destination.” She said the wide open spaces in South Africa, particularly at game reserves and safari lodges, might increase the destination’s appeal post-COVID.

Hotel group, aha, has decided to freeze prices at certain properties, according to Leisure Sales Manager, Deidre Ward. “We engaged with various industry partners and councils to establish an informed understanding of how a rate increase versus a rate freeze would impact 2021.”

She said the goal at aha was to retain travellers who had postponed trips but had not yet committed to a new date, and at the same time entice prospective travellers who might be comparing pricing with other destinations.

According to Ward, the flexible postponement of bookings had also been implemented at aha, with most of its incentive travellers having secured their re-booked date. Those who haven’t yet rebooked can defer to any date before June 30, 2021 as stated in aha’s COVID-19 policies.

“There have most definitely been a handful of clients who have not yet committed to new dates. This is mainly due to traveller age or the financial burdens that are anticipated due the impact of the pandemic,” said Ward, emphasising that the company understood its guests.

On the international appeal for Southern Africa post-COVID, Ward said: “I have seen numerous updates that South Africa is high on the bucket list as a post-COVID destination.” However, she felt that other countries would also be promoting local travel initially, much as was happening in Southern Africa.