“To emerge from this [COVID-19] crisis will require an extraordinary effort.” President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The tourism industry we love is not in a good space. As we enter the peak period of the pandemic we are, at the same time, well into the fourth month of little or no business. TERS is ending, borders are not open, insurers are not paying, we cannot travel for leisure between provinces and we are challenged by seeming inconsistencies in what activities can and can’t happen.
And amongst all this we need, together, to mobilise the extraordinary effort it will need to survive in order to sustain as many as possible of the 1.5 million jobs that rely on us, and all the businesses that rely on tourism; the few large, and the 49 000-odd small and medium businesses, across the country, in small and large towns, in rural areas and in cities. These are the lifeblood of this special industry, which welcomes and entertains travellers and the beating heart of communities where this happens – literally putting bread on the table for many millions of South Africans.
We have developed amazing protocols and we can operate across our value chain, mitigating all of the COVID-19 risks. We need to celebrate all of the businesses and their employees out there who are learning and implementing these new ways of operating in order to welcome our visitors, guests and passengers. You are to be saluted.
We need to continue to lobby and work together with our Ministry for the essential easing that will enable us to survive and revive:
- We need to ask for the next step – opening up inter-provincial travel for leisure.
- We need to plan for how to open up our borders as soon as it can be done safely and motivate for this.
- We need more support for employees and businesses: TERS extensions, pressure on insurance companies, and additional funds effectively disbursed.
This is the time to support the associations and the people working tirelessly to address the above. Our Minister also supports this – her first words in the speech last week were: “In line with President’s announcement last week, we are continuing with the effort to reactivate the tourism sector so that we can save businesses and jobs in the sector.”
Moreover – and crucially – we need to move on from any misunderstandings there may be and we need to have confidence in what the regulations say.
The regulations are clear: accommodation (excluding unaccredited and unlicensed accommodation i.e. private home sharing/letting) can operate with no limits or exclusions as to who can stay in it. Other clauses permit travel for leisure, but do not permit travel between provinces. So, within a province, people may travel for leisure and stay in permitted accommodation facilities – Full Stop!
The regulations are only issued by COGTA, and the Ministry or Department of Tourism cannot change the regulations – only COGTA can. Anyone can say anything, but statements do not change the law.
We can welcome the latest Ministry of Tourism directions, which cover, as expected, the ‘how’ of operating within the regulations, just as Ministry of Transport directions cover the ‘how’ of travel that is allowed (i.e. which airports, what capacity for vehicles). The COGTA State of Disaster Regulations enabled Ministers to make directions, but not regulations. We can also welcome our Minister’s official speech last week which also elaborated on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. It did not include any restriction on travelling and staying in accommodation for leisure.
Then, we must just get on and start to do what we do best – welcoming tourists, giving people amazing experiences, helping people who have been locked down for months to re-vitalise and enjoy space, nature, scenery and wildlife. We are allowed to enjoy our public and private game parks and the scenery of the Berg, the coast, the lowveld, the Panorama Route and so on: let’s help all South Africans enjoy this now, when they need it more than ever.
Finally, let’s motivate to enable more of this to happen safely – our next big ask is inter-provincial travel. Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West, Free State, and much of SANParks rely on Gautengers for their markets. 70% of Gauteng domestic travel is to other provinces. The tourism businesses and jobs in these provinces are at risk as long as inter-provincial travel – which is no less safe than intra-provincial travel – is not allowed.
So for now, let’s pat ourselves on the back: it’s been incredibly tough, and it still is a fight for survival. And going forward, let’s just use our extraordinary efforts and resilience to continue, and spur ourselves on to deliver experiences for our business and leisure guests, as safely as possible in the COVID era.
Why are the regulations clear?
- Under Alert level three, effective from the beginning of June, Regulation 39 (2) f) stated that premises that are closed to the public include:
“Hotels, lodges, bed and breakfasts, timeshare facilities and resorts and guest houses, except to the extent that these facilities are required for accommodation by the remaining tourist confined to such facilities, persons for work purposes and persons in quarantine or isolation;”
This clearly did not allow leisure travellers to stay in accommodation, but all types of accommodation listed could operate for business guests and other stipulated guests. No leisure travel was enabled in any other regulations (except private self-drive excursions), and the stipulations for allowed inter-provincial travel included business travel but not leisure travel.
- In his speech of 17 June, the President said, “This pandemic has also been a global economic crisis of ever-increasing proportion”. He went on to say that some businesses have had no revenue, and people have had no income for 80 days, and that even with government’s various support packages, there is a limit to how long these businesses can remain closed. He then stated: “Cabinet has decided to ease restrictions on certain other economic activities.” The first two economic activities listed were:
- Restaurants for ‘sit-down’ meals.
- Accredited and licensed accommodation, with the exception of home-sharing accommodation like Airbnb.
Obviously, easing of restrictions on accredited and licensed accommodation to support people and businesses requires a change to the status quo of only business and other stipulated guests being allowed to stay in accommodation.
- Under enhanced Level 3 Regulations from June 25, this was given effect in that the entire Regulation 39 (2) is replaced, and now the new 39 (2) e) states that premises that are closed to the public include:
“accommodation establishments not formally accredited and licensed, such as private homes for paid leisure accommodation”.
Clearly, all accommodation that is accredited and licensed is not closed to the public. Moreover, neither here nor anywhere else do the regulations prohibit leisure guests from staying in accommodation that can operate, nor limit which types of guests can stay in accommodation that can operate.
Finally, in Regulation 33 h) travel for leisure purposes is allowed, but the stipulations for allowed inter-provincial travel still only include business travel, and not leisure travel.
In summary: all types of guests can stay in all types of licensed and accredited accommodation but they may not have travelled inter-provincially to reach that accommodation.