While domestic tourism – particularly in Durban and KwaZulu Natal – will increase over the upcoming summer and festive season, long-haul travel will be slower to recover, according to Tsogo Sun CEO, Marcel von Aulock.
The group’s Cape Town properties in particular are more dependent on international leisure travel, with an average 60% occupancy coming from long-haul travellers.
The Sandton, Johannesburg, properties have shown some signs of recovery but also depend on international leisure and business travel.
“With the level 1 lockdown regulations allowing for up to 250 indoor conference delegates, we do expect to see some recovery for business travel,” says Von Aulock. However, he expects traditional business events in general to be smaller and shorter as company budgets are also constrained.
Durban’s The Edward, and the Mount Grace Hotel & Spa in the Magaliesberg in the North West – properties that Tsogo Sun took over from Marriott when the latter decided to walk away from its lease – are “doing fine” since intra-provincial travel was allowed.
“The occupancies have been quite high (60% to 70%) over weekends but are quieter during the week as business travel remains subdued,” says Von Aulock.
International recovery will be slower
While he is upbeat about the outlook for domestic leisure travel, he says it will take some time for international travellers to get over their concerns about long-haul travel.
He says this has less to do with health and safety – as airlines, hotels and destinations have all adopted proven, world-class protocols – but because of the ongoing uncertainty of travel regulations, which continue to be regularly revised across the globe.
“People are nervous that they travel to a long-haul destination and land up being stuck somewhere or are quarantined when they arrive back home.”
That said, he adds that the opening of South Africa’s borders is a welcome move. “At least there is some positive movement in the right direction, which kickstarts the road to recovery.”
He says the airlines are keen to fly into South Africa and there is some direct respite for Tsogo Sun as many of the properties host the international airline crews.
Furthermore, he points out, many European travellers – including those from Germany – and also those from the UK and the US, are robust travellers and prepared to take bigger travel risks. “My yardstick to measure whether long-haul travel to South Africa is properly on its way to recovery will be the British and Irish Lions tour in July next year – always an extremely popular international event.”
Pricing a factor
He believes travellers across the board – domestic, regional and international – will be price conscious post-COVID and there will be pressure on accommodation facilities regarding their prices.
“This will require so much more effective forward planning and everyone offering this service will be competing for those lucrative trade contracts.”
However, pricing is not the only driving factor and Tsogo Sun has used the lockdown downtime to step up its training at all 112 hotels to ensure service readiness when the numbers bounce back.