Following two years of devastation from the COVID-19 pandemic – where companies were forced to retrench, downsize, or reduce salaries in an effort to survive – there are positive signs of recovery, but the industry is also feeling the effects of the ‘brain drain’ caused by the pandemic.
“Many people in the industry were forced to seek alternate employment within other industries as a matter of survival. Businesses are trying to rebuild and employ again, but in many cases the skills are not available as those who have left are hesitant to return, or have found other opportunities that they are not wanting to leave,” explains Kim Botti, Director of national recruitment company, Lee Botti & Associates.
“In addition, the challenges and frustrations of handling travel bookings, re-bookings, refunds and complicated ever-changing pandemic requirements for each country have made working in travel less attractive,” she adds.
This, along with a great number of people leaving South Africa for employment in other countries, has resulted in a big loss of skills and talents: the ‘brain drain’ effect. The impact has been felt across the board in terms of levels within the industry and an industry that had massive appeal before is now not offering the excitement that people were attracted to before.
“At the same time, as businesses become busier and the employed staff are under immense pressure, there is little time or resources to train incoming recruits – a much-needed resource that companies will require,” Botti stresses. “The challenge for the industry is to attract the talent to return and ensure training is provided to rebuild this necessary sector to the South African economy.”
Specialist tourist guides show resilience
One sub-sector of the industry however has managed to retain scarce talent and skills.
“March 2020 cut off tourism businesses at the knees. Those without alternative skills or alternative backup had to simply close their doors,” explains Howard Geach, Geologist and Freelance Specialist Guide. “I think that a lot of people that were in the industry would be very nervous about going back in because of its vulnerability.”
However, Geach emphasizes that many tourist guides with specialist skills in particular remain in South Africa, driven by a passion for their craft.
“I have a small group of specialized guides doing art and culture tours, architecture-oriented tours, and more,” Geach explains. “There are definite growing signs of the tourism industry regathering strength and getting ready to meet and host returning international visitors. A lot of super specialist guides demonstrate great resilience!”
Specialist guides appear at the moment to be the most in-demand, sought out by more adventurous travellers wanting a unique experience rather than a typical guided tour. Such specialist guides build relationships with all establishments involved in tours, from restaurants to art galleries to transport companies.
“Tourism is very much a relationship business, at least at the specialised end,” Geach concludes.