Since the lockdown restrictions were initially eased to level 2 in mid-August last year, weekday occupancy levels for accommodation establishments have steadily risen to an average of 30%. However, weekend occupancy has shown a surge at these establishments, with numbers edging towards 60% through November and December 2020.
This is according to a report by hotel management software company, RoomRaccoon, which monitored occupancy of more than 3 200 rooms at boutique hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses across South Africa.
The challenge for hotels, guest houses and B&Bs to remain viable through 2021 and until international tourism resumes, will rest on the support of South African locals, says Niels Verspui, Country Manager of RoomRaccoon South Africa.
“With many places offering competitive prices to locals, weekend getaways are how they are choosing to indulge. Hotels, guest houses, B&Bs and lodges will be relying heavily on local support to make it through the leaner months, which is why the spike in weekend occupancy is noteworthy, and we are confident more establishments will cater for this.”
Verspui adds that the uptick in weekend tourism may represent a faint silver-lining, but the industry still needs to be agile with initiatives to maintain guest traffic over the coming winter months, and until international visitors can safely return.
According to RoomRaccoon, establishments in the coastal areas, including Cape Town’s Atlantic Seaboard, as well as the Stellenbosch winelands and Franschhoek regions, the Garden Route, and the Drakensberg, have seen the highest occupancies.
The RoomRaccoon report highlights that there are four reasons why the local weekend getaway trend is taking off:
The Department of Tourism’s Quarterly Performance Report for the period April to June 2020 indicated that the arrival of foreign travellers was down 96.2% compared with the same period in 2019. With barely 142,000 foreign arrivals versus the 3.7 million international visitors for the previous year, the knock-on effect was a 96.9% revenue decline for the South African accommodation industry.
In an attempt to offset the losses, establishments subsequently introduced discounted rates to make themselves more accessible to the local market, who can now enjoy time at places they previously could not afford.
2. Uniquely packaged experiences
Verspui notes that properties that have been doing well are the ones that packaged and promoted unique experiences. Over and above accommodation, they have added value by offering welcome drinks, including a romantic meal or picnic, adding tours and tastings, cultural experiences, or guided nature walks. “South Africans are looking for escapes and hideaways, and opportunities to experience something unique and affordable,” says Verspui.
3. Enhanced confidence in COVID compliance
Minimising contact with property staff, establishing social distancing and hygiene protocols, and limiting the need to share facilities with other patrons, provides guests with more control over their personal safety and has been critical in seeing the increase in local weekend tourism, says Verspui.
He also believes that the Contactless Stay initiative provides added confidence that guests will remain protected. Contactless Stay allows guests to check in and make payments online, choose a contactless key system for added safety, and allow guests to book essentials and extras – like Corona kits – in advance. On request, housekeeping services can also be excluded for the duration of a stay.
Like most industries, the accommodation sector has similarly turned to technology during the lockdown to create operational efficiencies. Using technology to enhance the guest experience by making the online booking process more streamlined and direct also means that establishments can reduce booking engine fees.
Hotel management systems designed for boutique and medium-sized properties are becoming popular, allowing them to benefit in ways that have previously only been available to the larger hotel groups. Affordable, accessible technology provides visibility of what competitors are doing in terms of pricing, so they can quickly apply rate changes to cater for fluctuations in supply and demand using automated yield management software.
“Tech is making small and medium-sized businesses more competitive and agile during a highly challenging period where they need to remain visible and appealing to the market, but it also gives them the edge to price themselves accordingly,” comments Verspui.