Does the tourism, hospitality and travel sector qualify for the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) Temporary Employee Relief Scheme (TERS)? “Hell, yes!” says Tourism Business Council of South Africa CEO, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa.
Making the announcement that TERS would be extended until March 15 “for those sectors who have not been able to operate” during his State of the Nation Address (Sona) earlier tonight (February 11), President Cyril Ramaphosa noted only that “the conditions of this extension and the sectors to be included will be announced after consultations with social partners at the National Economic Development and Labour Council”, leaving industry wondering whether this would include the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors.
Tshivhengwa says there’s no doubt the industry qualifies. “We have had continuous engagements with our Nedlac partners and have been raising awareness through various media platforms of how the tourism industry has been restricted in its operations – from beach bans to parks, dams and rivers and alcohol bans.”
He told Tourism Update the TBCSA was committed to continuing to engage with Nedlac on the need for relief for the sector, especially as it would still take a while for international tourism to take off.
“And it’s not just relief for employees we’re seeking, it’s relief for tourism businesses. Especially through government’s R200 billion (€10.6bn) loan guarantee scheme – of which just over R18.9bn (€1bn) in loans have already been approved.”
Tshivhengwa says the TBCSA is lobbying for tourism businesses to be considered differently to other business loan applicants. “Short-term loans don’t make sense for the sector. We need medium- to long-term loans because tourism’s projected recovery will take longer.”
Vaccines for front-line tourism staff
Another campaign TBCSA is focused on is to ensure that frontline workers in the tourism industry – chefs, waiters, customs officials, hotel staff, tourist guides, game rangers etc – are prioritised for COVID-19 vaccinations.
“Tourists need to have confidence in the safety of a destination and this will go a long way towards ensuring that,” said Tshivhengwa.
Underwhelmed industry reaction to Sona
While many acknowledged Ramaphosa had a lot of issues to address and a short time in which to deal with them, others felt he had rushed over many discussion points and left many questions unanswered.
“Tourism got a five-second mention between analogue TVs and SOEs,” is how one industry member described the speech on a WhatsApp message to Tourism Update.
“Is this an indication of how important tourism is to government?” queried another.
Tshivhengwa, however, sees it differently. “President Ramaphosa prioritised tourism as a driver of economic growth in South Africa during his 2019 Sona and there’s no question he sees tourism as inclusive of the 2021 economic recovery plan.”
Other key take-outs from Sona for the tourism industry
- As international travel starts to recover in the wake of COVID-19, there will be a full roll-out of e-visas for visitors from China, India, Kenya, Nigeria and 10 other countries. Ramaphosa did not elaborate on which other 10 countries.
- While the economy contracted by 6% compared with Q4 2019 and unemployment is now at a “staggering” 30.2%, Ramaphosa expects to see a strong recovery by year-end.
Another tourism opportunity missed
While taxpayers no doubt welcomed the toned-down Sona – at a cost of R100 000 (€5 440) rather than the average glitzy R2.2m (€117 647) price tag – CEO of Cape Town Tourism, Enver Duminy, has highlighted that – without the thousands of guests who usually attend – local businesses and accommodation establishments are naturally feeling the effect.
“Accommodation establishments and restaurants that would usually house Sona attendees will not benefit from that this year. COVID-19 has not only dealt a massive blow to leisure tourism, but also to business tourism and the economic benefits of being a city that hosts many events,” he said.
“There has been massive loss of revenue across the industry as a result of COVID-19 and the various levels of lockdown and the regulations that come with it. Feedback from our member businesses is that many are battling to stay afloat without the usual influx of visitors and the cancellation or postponement of big local events. We hope to see some significant movement in the tourism and hospitality space while the restrictions are not as harsh as they were before, but we do urge everyone to continue to play by the rules.”