I firmly believe that there is always an opportunity in a crisis. The global spread of the coronavirus is a rapidly evolving situation that presents new challenges and scenarios each day.

As SA Tourism, we are engaging with our partners in the tourism sector to find solutions to respond to this outbreak which is unprecedented in scope. It goes without saying that our first priority is the health and safety of our people.

There are presently seven confirmed cases of the virus in South Africa. The South African government is continuing to monitor the situation to take the appropriate decisions and actions to ensure the safety of all citizens and limit the spread of the virus. This was emphasised by Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane at the Tourism Leadership Forum in Sandton yesterday.

As the sector, we must also collectively begin to look to when the crisis has been stabilised as to how we can build and protect South Africa’s reputation as a tourism destination of choice.  Our tourism brand is resilient and how we act now will determine whether we can emerge stronger post the coronavirus outbreak and whether we will be remembered positively. We can make the decisions and take the actions that will ensure this does happen. 

Business decisions must therefore be taken but not at the expense of our humanity. This requires agility and humility in how we interact with our stakeholders and clients. We must apply the policies and procedures such as cancellation fees and terms/conditions which are important to conduct a transparent and sustainable business under normal circumstances. It is equally important to approach how we finalise cancellations and waivers as efficiently and effortlessly as possible, with the client and consumer in mind. Ultimately, we want them to choose us again.

We should use this opportunity to listen, understand and collaborate to find mutually beneficial solutions, and nurture sustainable business relationships that will live beyond the current crisis and have long-term benefits for our country as a travel destination of choice. 

To ensure we are ready to optimise opportunities once the crisis is over, our National Conference Bureau is working with event organisers and venues to confirm the readiness of South Africa to host conferences and exhibitions, while persuading organising committees to consider us as an alternative destination.

Whilst it would be inappropriate and opportunistic to run global brand campaigns under the current circumstances, SA Tourism’s offices locally and internationally can add immense value by strengthening relations with the trade to communicate and keep all partners informed, strengthen stakeholder relations and keep South Africa relevant and top of mind in our markets.

We should also be thinking about how to entice domestic travellers to explore South Africa in a tough economic climate once the immediate coronavirus outbreak subsides. We can use this time to create sustainable incentives understanding that price-sensitive local travellers will be looking for add-on packages and exclusive experiences that will make their rands stretch further.

The time will come when we can safely ‘visit each other and welcome the world’.

Global restrictions from some countries that are in place to limit the spread of the virus, will have, and are already having, a massive impact on supply chains and multiple industries in our sector. The longer these restrictions continue, core industries, which include accommodation, food and beverage services, recreation and entertainment, transportation and travel services, will be negatively affected.

We may instinctively want to take cover and wait for the crisis to be over but this is the time to explore collaborations and partnerships to put in place the mechanisms for South Africa to become not just an alternative, but a first choice for the global travel and tourism market.

As I reiterated to the DMCs at a meeting yesterday, I am open to dialogue, suggestions and proposals on how we can boost our tourism industry in the face of adversity.

I look forward to working with you to co-create a way forward.