South Africa’s tourism sector faces a potential 75% reduction in revenue for 2020, thus putting at risk a further R149.7bn (€7.8bn) in output, 438 000 jobs and R80.2bn (€4.2bn) in foreign receipts.
This was highlighted by Minister of Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, during today’s (July 22) tourism budget vote. “The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has listed South Africa as one of the top 15 countries that are being the most negatively impacted by the near-closure of the international travel industry during the pandemic,” she said.
However, in an exclusive interview with Tourism Update, Deputy Minister of Tourism, Fish Mahlalela, reiterated that the tourism sector was resilient and that he was confident of a recovery.
“We cannot be despondent. It won’t be easy but this industry will not collapse. We must understand that crisis creates opportunities and remain positive for the recovery of the sector.”
He acknowledged industry fears, noting that – with private-sector organisations considering their legal options around the opening of domestic leisure travel and tourism operators in Mpumalanga protesting to save the industry – that South Africa was a democracy where these voices need to be heard.
“As government, we need to listen to their views and come as a collective to come up with solutions. All we ask is that the industry understand that this is a global pandemic that has affected all industries,” Mahlalela said. “It has been very difficult for government to balance lives and livelihoods and we are trying to ensure the sector can strike this balance.”
The Deputy Minister said the rise in COVID-19 cases in the country was worrying and that the projections by health experts indicated that domestic leisure travel was likely to open in late September or early October.
“The virus is likely to flatten in September according to health experts. At this point in time, borders open for international travellers is likely to be January 2021,” explained Mahlalela.
“What is critical is for us to try at all costs to flatten the curve. We cannot open our borders now because with the numbers rising as they are, no one will want to come to South Africa. We cannot market South Africa in its current state.”
Mahlalela explained that the spikes in numbers in certain provinces prevented inter-provincial travel at this time.
“We wouldn’t be able to have a viable tourism industry when the majority of the population wouldn’t be allowed to travel because they come from provinces with high numbers like Gauteng, KZN and the Eastern Cape.”
Meanwhile, the government continues to push for meaningful transformation of the sector, with Mahlalela highlighting that access to market and finance are some of the major barriers to this.
He told Tourism Update that government could not overcome these barriers alone. “We need those in private sector with the experience to provide mentorship to upcoming businesses in the sector to ensure it grows and in turn grows the economy,” Mahlalela explained.
“As government, we need to ensure infrastructure is available and that sector is diverse and not concentrated in two to three destination provinces as it currently is.”