Vice President: Sales and Marketing for Dragonfly Africa, Yolanda Woeke, has just completed a number of post-COVID-19 site inspections to South African properties.
She told Tourism Update about her experiences, noting that there was no doubt South Africa was travel-ready. “The travel trade as a whole has come so far and I am so proud,” said Woeke.
She shared some insights on the health and safety protocols implemented at these properties and her personal experience of them.
Q: What was your best experience at each property and why?
A: The More Collection (Lion Sands as well as Tinga). It was just amazing to see how well prepared the suppliers are. Even the back of house, things that we as clients will never even think about – or necessarily even see – such as new laundry methods with really hot water, additional soaps and santisers. The kitchen staff are even wearing similar suits to PPE and have got fantastic protocols in place and everything is very clean. It makes you feel very safe.
Even the entire staff complement have their temperature taken twice daily when on duty, sanitise regularly and wear masks when in client contact.
They have a COVID-19 room if anyone shows any symptoms as well as a doctor on standby 24/7 who could come out if necessary.
The food stations during meals are all set out in such a way that is appropriate to required standards
The social distancing works perfectly on safari. The vehicles offers this automatically, with seating capacities at maximum six pax per vehicle and of course open air.
Four Seasons, Westcliff Johannesburg. Again I was just really happy to see how beautiful the hotel is looking. They obviously took some time to do maintenance during lockdown.
From the GM to the porters and security, everyone with client contact (and even back of house) are wearing masks. They are well trained in the ‘Be Safe’ protocols and have set up areas in such a way that you social distance without noticing it.
So they have taken all those worries off your shoulders. Minibars are only stocked on request etc. There are as few touch points as possible within the rooms, which also undergo a ‘rest period’ in between guest stays.
Q: How ready are the properties in terms of health and safety protocols?
A: We are totally ready for travel; social distancing is well in place. Some other interesting changes I observed at the properties include the fact that one can order room service with a QR code/or WhatsApp communications with staff on site.
Often, in South Africa, we are seen as a Third World country but we are actually First World in terms of our understanding of how important it is to get this right.
Q: Was it a challenge implementing a different set of protocols – as dictated by different country regulations – across the portfolio and how did the respective properties manage this?
A: It was a massive challenge, but it was a challenge that was accepted and thought through and we have had lots of input from the Tourism Business Council of South Africa and the World Health Organisation.
Across the board, suppliers are managing it in their stride and I think a slow opening with local tourists first will smooth out any teething issues that don’t work.
Q: How important do you think it is to ensure high standards of health and safety protocols? What are the consequences if there is a slip-up anywhere across the supply chain?
A: It is vital. We only get one chance to make guests feel at ease and at home and comfortable, otherwise they will not enjoy their experience.
If they feel unsafe, or not looked after, or if protocols are not followed, they will not return.
Q: What are the biggest lessons learned by Dragonfly during this COVID-19 crisis?
A: That is a very difficult question. I think we all realise that there are things out of our control. Some of them are bigger and some of them are smaller, like finding a lost bag, or someone forgot their toothbrush, or we didn’t order the right gin etc. And then something like the pandemic happens – it puts priorities in place a little bit.
What we can all learn from this is that we can definitely continue to keep on implementing these safety protocols and best practices. It is good to know that when you travel you should sanitise, you should not get too close to people, everyone has germs etc.
So I think it has taught us a new level of service. So I think, all in all, everyone has learned a lot and now we just really need the business to come back.
Q: Have you got any final words for the trade?
A: Being at the coal face, dealing with suppliers and clients and the frustrations of people – especially booking a once-in-a-lifetime trip and the money they were going to spend on it – it is important to fight for our clients.
We also have to be that bridge between our suppliers and the clients. They don’t have the money, and the pandemic/closing of borders, etc wasn’t their fault. This was no one’s fault; we are all in the same boat. It was not due to mismanagement etc.
So as a DMC we are trying to be that mitigator where we make sure our clients feel they are getting their money back with cancellations. They want to come back to South Africa but they see it as a rip-off/didn’t get their money back etc.
On the other hand we have to make sure the suppliers have got some money to continue what they are doing. For suppliers/hotels/lodges etc, to become COVID-19 ready has been a costly exercise, that everyone has done in order to still be a viable player in the tourism space.
What I do want to conclude with is that we now need the borders to open to the markets that keep us all going, our key source markets - UK/Australia/North America, etc... so we can move on. As Private enterprises we have done our bit. What we need now is Government to ensure travel to South & East Africa can happen and ensure it is easy and hassle free for our clients to visit.