Having survived the harsh lockdown and subsequent travel restrictions, the staff at Lalibela Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape are waiting patiently for tourism to recover and for business as normal to resume.
Tourism Update spoke to Marketing Director of Lalibela Game Reserve, Vernon Wait, who offered insight on the past few months and what he predicts for the months to come.
Q: What was the experience of lockdown like for Lalibela?
A: Financially, it was terrible. It was never part of our plan to close for eight months. Fortunately we had reserves to keep everything going and we kept moving. We were able to do a major upgrade on one of our lodges and generally tried to make the best of a bad situation.
Last weekend we had agents at the newly upgraded lodge and you could just see how happy and appreciative the staff were to be working again and doing what they do.
The lockdown as a whole really made us realise that no matter where you fall in the tourism value chain we are one industry. The small cluster of game reserves here in the Eastern Cape supports thousands of workers in the province and we realised that we are critical.
Q: When do you expect the tourist numbers will return, particularly international travellers?
A: It’s very difficult to say. You know you have your wise mind and then you have the crystal ball of what you want to happen. I honestly think numbers will recover when vaccines are freely available in our source markets.
Southern Africa typically attracts a more wealthy class of traveller, and I believe that this market will be more willing to pay for a vaccine.
Q: In a lot of cases the more affluent travellers to southern Africa are also in an older demographic, do you not think that because of this they will be more risk averse?
A: Oh most definitely, but I think there is a potential new market for us. North America’s wealthier market is younger and will be looking for safe places to travel. While they typically head to Europe on their summer holidays, places like Italy, Spain and France got really bad press during COVID and that could leave the market open for us.
Q: What do you think South Africa has to attract this market that competes with the European destinations you listed?
A: Many of those destinations are mass tourist destinations. When you think of the iconic tourist attractions it’s synonymous with big crowds of people. We offer the polar opposite, wide-open spaces and exclusivity.
We also need to remember that the desire to travel is incredibly strong. We learned this in the global financial crisis when the European markets were very quick to bounce back.