Owner/Manager of the historic The Cavern – Drakensberg Resort & Spa, Megan Bedingham, has been forced to be brave and take some tough decisions following the lockdown of the tourism industry due to government’s COVID-19 regulations.
This is Women’s Month and, as part of the #IamTourism campaign, Tourism Update will share the stories of the everyday heroines of the industry.
This is the story of how Bedingham found her courage:
Although her life is entrenched in hospitality (The Cavern, owned by her family, dates back to 1941) Bedingham trained as a teacher – and has played an active role in the various education projects in the northern Drakensberg. The Cavern supports 18 pre-schools and Early Child Development (ECD) centres in the nearby greater amaZizi Village.
“There is a whole other side to hospitality,” she says. “We have been incredibly privileged to live here, and it’s always been important to our family that we give back to our community.”
The hard emotions of ‘locking down’
For Bedingham and her team, closing the hotel under the lockdown regulations was very emotional.
“We have never had a day here without a guest. Our lowest numbers would maybe be between 20 and 30 people and then we would be thinking that we were ‘empty’. We like to be busy and bustling and there’s always lots on the go at The Cavern – so when we had to close our doors… emotionally it was just huge. Our whole dining room sitting empty – it was dreadful and depressing.”
She says the far-reaching effects of government’s flip-flopping on lockdown regulations – first opening and the closing again after two weeks – had a major impact on business. So much so that, after a night of restlessness and anxiety, Bedingham wrote a very honest letter to Minister of Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane asking for some kind of reassurance for the hard-hit tourism industry.
She is yet to receive a reply.
“From the business side of things it was devastating – you have no income and we have about a hundred people who work with us. The Unemployment Insurance Fund Temporary Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) was a lifesaver, but it’s definitely going to be a long road to recovery.”
Moved to action
Moved to action by the dire situation, and with a bit more time on her hands than usual, Bedingham began assisting the ECD centres that remained open, ensuring that all the safety protocols were in place and assisting the staff. She says taking a practical approach to the pandemic is what is needed, and avoiding the issue is not an option.
“We can’t run away from COVID-19; it’s here to stay,” she says. “It’s easy to stay closed off and hide and be safe with you and your family, but actually that’s not really realistic. At some point we have to be brave and take the risk and open the industry up and get out there and make a living.”
Bedingham says it’s important to be bold, something that doesn’t come naturally to her.
“I am such a ninny really when it comes to a lot of things. I would rather hide away; I mean it’s so much safer,” she says, “but you have to be realistic about the risk, and you have to do things with care and caution and I think you do have to be a little bit bold and brave because, as a country, South Africa, we just don’t have the resources to afford to just sit and wait it out.”
What emboldened Bedingham is the fact that so many people rely on The Cavern for employment, as well as the wider community that offers a range of related services.
“What we have realised is that in these rural areas we have a huge number of people who depend on us, and you can’t just be scared for yourself. You have got to think about the greater impact that it’s going to have on your whole community and when you think about that responsibility then you do have to stand up and be brave.”
The Cavern is ‘travel ready’
When it comes to protocols, The Cavern is definitely “travel ready” says Bedingham.
“We have gone through a lot of the documentation. It’s quite involved and it’s tricky and difficult but we have been practising social distancing within closed areas, improving ventilation, and also trying to keep families together and insisting that people wear masks indoors,” she says, “but also allowing people the freedom, when they are out in the mountain with their own immediate family, that they can actually let down their guard a bit and enjoy nature.
“In our dining room we have moved tables around and for a long time we are going to run at much lower occupancies and I think that’s good when you have a situation like this, because it allows for a lot more space. We have got to take care of each other too.”
No doubt, the Minister of Tourism’s news on July 30 was welcomed by the team at The Cavern, who are not only travel ready, but ready and waiting for their staff and guests to come back and experience the magic of the hotel and the beautiful Drakensberg mountains, and a strong sense of home-grown KZN hospitality.
“With intra-provincial leisure travel now open, there’s an opportunity for us all to get back to work, to begin rebuilding but also to provide families with an escape to nature, which simply does restore.”
Megan Bedingham spoke to Big Ambitions MD, Natalia Rosa. View their full #IAmTourism conversation here.