Balancing lives and livelihoods the core focus for Tourism Sector’s phased and safe reopening

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©Khwela Academy 2018

The phased reopening of tourism in South Africa requires a delicate balance between “saving lives and preserving livelihoods”, as highlighted by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his address to the nation earlier in June.

This is a responsibility the Tourism Sector takes extremely seriously. As such, it has put its weight behind the President and National Department of Tourism’s efforts to reopen the tourism sector in a responsible and phased manner, starting with the easing of travel restrictions around domestic business travel and intra-provincial domestic leisure travel under robust health and safety protocols that have been informed by global best practice.

And reopen it must if livelihoods and businesses are to be preserved. In the President’s own words: “There is a limit to how long these businesses can be closed”. In the case of tourism, research tells us this limit is already having dire consequences for the sector and economy.

As many as 1.15 million tourism jobs could be lost if the international travel ban and lockdown continues for the rest of the year, according to the Bureau for Economic Research. For an industry that employs 1.5 million people directly and indirectly – 70% of which are women, 60% youth and many low- to semi-skilled people in areas with the greatest employment need – this is a significant dent in the country’s employment.

Already, over 250,000 employees within the tourism value chain applied for the UIF TERS programme in April and May and this is expected to double in June. At least 50% of tourism businesses have reduced staff salaries and 43% have furloughed or made redundant at least half of their staff, according to a survey run by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA).

Many tourism businesses depend on international tourism for their overall survival. Should South Africa remain closed to international tourism until the end of 2020, there is every likelihood that the 2021-2022 season will also be impacted.

The negative impact of lockdown on the livelihoods of millions of South Africans will extend well beyond the lifting of that lockdown, most notably affecting local communities who are reliant on tourism businesses in and around conservation areas – our main tourism asset. 

Saving lives while preserving livelihoods

To ensure Tourism is among the lowest-risk economic sectors, the tourism industry has developed comprehensive protocols to address and mitigate key risk areas, informed by all international and local health and safety guidelines, including World Health Organization (WHO), National Institute for Communicable Disease (NICD), and Department of Health (DoH).

These have been issued by the TBCSA, have been reviewed by an epidemiologist and accepted by all sub-sectors of the industry. The protocols, which can be viewed here, are also being rolled out with an equally robust process to monitor and ensure compliance.

As South Africa is several months behind northern hemisphere tourism destinations which are currently reopening for tourism, we will have the opportunity to observe and learn from their successes and challenges.

Our focus, as we lobby for a phased reopening of international inbound tourism as close to September as possible, is to ensure the tourism sector implements, fine tunes and improves on the operating protocols developed to safeguard staff and guests from the spread of COVID-19, thus delivering on the President’s call to balance lives and livelihoods.

A further step on this journey of reopening has now been given the green light with the allowance of intra-provincial domestic leisure travel and overnight stays for intra-provincial domestic leisure in “accredited and licenced accommodation” with the exception of home-sharing accommodation like Airbnb. This was gazetted in the recently released advanced Level 3 regulations issued by the Ministry of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

With strict health protocols in place and lessons being learnt from global best practice, we will use this opportunity and ensure South Africa is Travel Ready for its much-needed reopening of international inbound tourism in a safe and responsible manner.

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