As travel and tourism prepare for a fresh start following lifting of the hard lockdown, it is time to prepare for new trends and embrace changes that will boost the sector in South Africa.
To do this we need to focus on local flavour, inclusivity and sustainability. Short-term let property owners have had a tough run over the past 18 months but with revival hopefully around the corner, the relaunch of travel could also transform the country’s tourism offerings.
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New types of visitors and a changed outlook mean tourism service providers, including holiday accommodation owners, can cater for future tourists and overcome much of the negative impact of the pandemic.
Local is lekker
Africa’s Travel and Tourism Summit, held in Joburg recently, revealed that the catalyst for a new kind of travel is the value of community and rural tourism. Safiyya Akoojee, a director at law firm Thomson Wilks, says empowering local communities means community and political leaders need to effect change that is beyond political agendas.
“We need to look inward before looking outward. Local communities, right down to rural level, have doctors, nurses, carpenters and other professionals who can help establish tourism in their communities.”
While the coronavirus pandemic has dampened global travel, many tourism authorities have been looking at their domestic markets to retain revenue. Chris Lehane, head of global policy and communications at Airbnb, reports there has been an uptick in domestic tourism since the outbreak of the virus.
“In South Africa, domestic travel increased by more than 600%, with North West province growing at 130%.” Most of that travel was by car, with travellers opting for more isolated nature-based and rural destinations. He adds that tourists are travelling for different reasons, which is an attribute of the new kind of travel. “The outbreak of loneliness, pandemic of isolation and depression has made tourists look for more meaningful travel.”
Globally, Airbnb data shows that travel is also becoming more long term, propelled by the flexibility created by remote work. The platform says it is seeing 250% increases in the share of longterm stays for self-reported business travel. Long-term stays (28 or more nights) was Airbnb’s fastest-growing trip-length category in Q2 2021.
“In South Africa, we launched a campaign with Wesgro (trade and investment agency in the Western Cape) in March to promote remote working vacations across Cape Town and the Western Cape to South Africans,” it states.
Rosemary Anderson, national chairperson of the Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (Fedhasa), says the association continues to emphasise that responsible trading, together with the vaccination of all South African residents, is the only sustainable solution to the industry’s fight against Covid-19.
“Fedhasa has created and rolled out a robust set of health and safety protocols and our members are acutely aware of the importance of adhering to these standards to safeguard the public and continue trading.
“No industries are as aware of the direct relationship between adherence to protocols and recovery than hospitality and tourism,” Anderson says. However, Covid protocols, vaccination drives and the return of tourists do not mean the end of the battle. The industry’s “real fight” is to create an environment that is more conducive to attracting international visitors.
“If we could remove the major obstacles to travel to our country, such as having a huge reduction in violent crime, the number of tourists visiting our country would double and triple. “That is what we should all be working towards. This could be a game changer when it comes to dramatically reducing unemployment in South Africa, which is our biggest challenge.”
Anderson says the “wonderful thing” about tourism and hospitality is that they can absorb people from all sectors. “One does not even need formal education to be really good at one’s job in this sector – hospitality and tourism could be our silver bullet to reducing unemployment in our country.”
Lehane says travel has fundamentally changed as a result of the pandemic and that Airbnb, together with the government and stakeholders, needs to rebalance travel to be truly sustainable, domestic, diverse and inclusive.
“The Airbnb platform is helping to lead the global travel recovery by enabling anyone to become a tourism entrepreneur. To advance this vision of inclusive tourism, we are supercharging the Africa Academy by investing in infrastructure that will allow people to connect to our global network, creating our first-ever entrepreneurial education programme and re-investing in the next generation of tourism entrepreneurs.”
Back to basics
Hamza Farooqui, founder and chief executive of Millat Investments, says South Africa will need to take a “tourism for dummies” approach to rebuilding its industry. This includes ensuring the safety of tourists, having a coherent strategy and creating an enabling business environment.
“There are three things that South African tourism has going for itself: a year-round mild climate, welcoming people and authentic cultural diversity. But there are three things that go against it: an absence of safety, a lack of coherence between all tourism role-players and an unwillingness to be open for business on a global scale.
“All of these cracks need to be addressed if we are to rebuild tourism,” Farooqui says. In addition to recognising African tourists – who make up 80% of foreign arrivals in the country before and during Covid – South Africa needs to look for alternate source markets, such as the Middle East, China and India.