Without a doubt, an industry that took one of the hardest knocks during the Covid-19 pandemic is tourism. Like other countries, South Africa had to close its borders to international travellers to curb the spread of the virus, and also barred domestic travel.
Level 3 of lockdown saw the reopening of provincial travel, and level 2, interprovincial travel, but many are claiming that this will not save the industry; international tourism is the real gold mine. And this has been the downfall of South African tourism industry all along, says travel guru and chairman of the Global Tourism Legacy Networks, Charles Ndabeni, ‘We rely too much on international tourism.’
According to Ndabeni, not only will it take time to reopen the borders, but we won’t see much of the international community in the next two to three years, as people will be hesitant to travel internationally due to ongoing Covid-19 fears.
‘To boost tourism in the next two years, the industry needs a complete overhaul,’ says Ndabeni. The only way to achieve this, he maintains, is to get South Africans interested in South Africa.
So is there a secret formula to inspire 58 million citizens to travel within their own borders and explore their country? Ndabeni believes so, but it will require a shift in focus.
‘Government and the private sector need to come up with a post-Covid-19 recovery plan that is practical and implementable, and will make South African travel more affordable to its citizens. Where South African tourism has made the selling of seats and beds a priority, we now also need to shift our focus to selling sights and experiences,’ explains Ndabeni.
According to Ndabeni, we can achieve this by opening new travel avenues and opportunities for citizens to experience their own country like never before, as well as provide a unique experience for international travellers. For example, some of South Africa’s rural communities can offer fascinating travel opportunities, including a look into their unique lifestyles, culture and history. To develop rural travel destinations, Ndabeni believes government and the private sector should partner with local municipalities and traditional leaders to turn their own rural communities into tourism destinations.
Ndabeni also believes that the recapitalisation and commercialisation of state-owned tourism assets should be prioritised in partnership with the private sector.
‘For example, in the North-West province there are three main tourism attractions owned by the state: Sun city, Pilanesburg National Park and the Madikwe Game Reserve. These attractions should be marketed as the main attraction points in the North-West province.’ Unfortunately, too many destination marketing agencies are marketing too many different things at the moment, which is resulting in nobody really knowing what each province’s main attractions are.
To curb this, Ndabeni says the tourism relief fund should be restructured to provide financial incentives to all the tourism and travel sector companies that focus on major tourism avenues and iconic areas.
‘An integrated tourism events strategy should be prioritised to drive tourism traffic to the major iconic areas in the country and, in addition to that, we should also focus on establishing new tourism avenues.’
At the moment, the main key is to get South Africans travelling and exploring their own country. We see these places on TV and we read about them in travel magazines; why not break out of our familiar worlds and experience them for ourselves?
Like so many aspects of life after Covid-19, tourism is primed for change.