When courage is not an option

As owner/manager of the much-loved The Cavern – Drakensberg Resort & Spa, the lockdown of the tourism industry due to government’s Covid-19 regulations has forced Megan Bedingham  to be brave and to take some tough decisions.

Although her life is entrenched in hospitality (The Cavern, owned by Megan’s family dates back to 1941) Megan trained as a teacher – and has played an active role in the various education projects in the Northern Drakensberg. The Cavern supports 18 pre-schools and ECD centres in the nearby greater amaZizi Village.

“There is a whole other side to hospitality,” says Megan, “We have been incredibly privileged to live here, and it’s always been important to our family that we give back to our community.”

The hard emotions of ‘locking down’

For Megan and her team, closing the hotel under the lockdown regulations was very emotional.

“We have never had a day here without a guest, – our lowest numbers would maybe be between 20 and 30 people and then we would be thinking that we were ‘empty’. We like to be busy and bustling and there’s always lots on the go at The Cavern – so when we had to close our doors… emotionally it was just huge. Our whole dining room sitting empty – it was dreadful and depressing…”

She says the far-reaching effects of government’s flip flopping on lockdown regulations – first opening and the closing again after two weeks had a major impact on business. So much so, that after a night of restlessness and anxiety, Megan wrote a very honest letter to Minister of Tourism, Ms Mmamoloko Kubaui-Ngubane asking for some kind of reassurance for the hard-hit tourism industry.

She is yet to receive a reply.

“From the business side of things it was devastating – you have no income … and we have about a hundred people who work with us.  TERS was a lifesaver, but it’s definitely going to be a long road to recovery.”

Taking Bold Steps

Moved to action by the dire situation, and with a bit more time on her hands than usual Megan began assisting the ECD centres that remained open, ensuring that all the safety protocols were in place and assisting the staff. She says that taking a practical approach to the pandemic is what is needed, and avoiding the issue is not an option.

“We can’t run away from Covid-19, it’s here to stay,” she says, “It’s easy to stay closed off and  hide and be safe with you and your family, but actually that’s not really realistic, at some point we have to be brave and take the risk and open the industry up and get out there and make a living.

Megan says it’s important to be bold, something that doesn’t come naturally to her.

“I am such a ninny really when it comes to a lot of things,  I would rather hide away, I mean it’s so much safer,” she says,  “but you have to be realistic about the risk, and you have to do things with care and caution and I think you do have to be a little bit bold and brave because as a country, South Africa, we just don’t have the resources to afford to just sit and wait it out.

What emboldened Megan is the fact that so many people rely on The Cavern for employment, as well as the wider community that offers a range of related services.

“What we have realised is that in these rural areas – we have a huge number of people who depend on us, and you can’t just be scared for yourself, you have got to think about the greater impact that it’s going to have on your whole community and when you think about that responsibility then you do have to stand up and be brave.”

Is the Cavern “Travel Ready”

When it comes to protocols Megan says The Cavern is definitely “travel ready.”

“We have gone through a lot of the documentation, it’s quite involved and it’s tricky and difficult but we have practicing social distancing within closed areas, improving ventilation, and also trying to keep families together and insisting that people wear masks indoors,” she says, “but also allowing people the freedom, when they are out in the mountain with their own immediate family, that they can actually let down their guard a bit and enjoy nature. In our dining room we have moved tables around and I think for a long time we are going to run at much lower occupancies and I think that’s good, when you have a situation like this because it allows for a lot more space. We have got to take care of each other too.”

No doubt, the Minister of Tourism’s news on 30 July 2020 is welcomed by the team at The Cavern, who are not only travel ready, but ready and waiting their staff and guests to come back and experience the magic of the hotel and the beautiful Drakensberg mountains, and a strong sense of homegrown KZN hospitality.

“With intra-provincial leisure travel now open, there’s an opportunity for us all to get back to work, to begin rebuilding but also to provide families with an escape to nature which simply does restore.”

Megan Bedingham spoke to Natalia Rosa, view their #IAmTourism conversation here

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I think that’s where the responsibility of tourism has to be. It’s not just about making your own way for your own family, it’s about the impact – it’s much broader. So whether you make a living for yourself, your staff, you can also help to improve the lives of people through tourism.