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South African Tourism Industry Looks at Ways to Make Travelling Safe Again

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No buffet meals and a limited number of guests in hotels and lodges.

These are some of the proposals the tourism industry will make to government as the sector prepares for the new norm to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The industry is developing a recovery plan on what it needs to do once the government further relaxes lockdown regulations and allows it to start
operating.

Since the beginning of the national lockdown, the tourism sector has not been operating, placing thousands of jobs at risk.

The sector started experiencing difficulties before the national lockdown as travel was restricted in some of the countries which were the first to experience Covid-19.

Tourism employs an estimated 750,000 people directly and has created 1.5-million indirect jobs.

SA Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona has been tasked by the government to work in conjunction with the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA) in developing a recovery plan for the industry.

The task entails consulting with the sector to establish where the industry is and what it needs to put in place in order to get back on track.

Ntshona said the industry had suffered the worst it has ever seen due to the pandemic.

“It is quite deep. It is not just an SA problem but a global one. About 90% of the airlines are not flying. A lot of countries have their borders closed. It has really come to a stop.

“We are at level 4 in SA. Tourism is expected to start at level 1. What the sector is doing now is to say we can either wait for this thing to come to level 1 or we can proactively put certain operational protocols in place that will help de-risk the sector,” Ntshona said.

“What this will do, it will enable the sector to operate at level 3 if it has put these protocols to curb the spread of the virus.”

Protocols being developed include what needs to happen when one is checking into a hotel, the availability of personal protective equipment and doing away with buffet meals.

Hotels will also minimise contact at reception and not operate at full capacity to minimise contact in their facilities.

Ntshona said that recovery of the sector will be led by domestic travel as countries still have tight restrictions on international travel.

“For a short time, domestic tourism is going to be the key driver of the sector and the economy. Therefore, specific campaigns and packages and offerings will have to be put together by the private sector for the domestic market,” he said.

This, he said, would obviously involve the airlines who will also need to focus on domestic travel while international travel is depressed.

TBCSA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa said the only way for the sector to start operating is to change how it works.

“If we are to get out of this, we have to do tourism differently. This means we have to do tourism with protocols. Social distancing has to be one of them and the issue of washing hands and sanitising. But you have to remember that our industry, especially in the hospitality sector, we are already sanitised because of the work that we do .You have to clean every day. What we have to do is take it a notch higher.

“Even in restaurants, how many times should you be cleaning the tables, how many metres should the tables be apart from each other.

“People are talking about post-Covid-19 but it is how we do tourism with Covid-19. How do we make sure that people can go to parks and still do a safari .We need to open up our industry at some point, our goal is how do we operate? How do we sanitise the rooms, how the laundry is going to work. How do we protect our employees?”

Tshivhengwa said the first thing that must happen is for people to have confidence that travelling is safe.

“It is the same as it was with 9/11 [attack in the US]. After the attacks, people stopped travelling until they saw that airports have metal detectors, you have to go through a stringent screening, and therefore it is safe. You need to instil confidence that it is safe to travel. As soon as people start to travel, even for business, then it gives them confidence to travel even for leisure.”

The recovery plan is expected to be concluded this week and then given to tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane. She will table it before the government for it to be evaluated and then, lastly, it will be brought to the national coronavirus command council for adoption.

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