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Cape Town icon mothballed by extended Covid lockdown

One of Cape Town’s most popular tourism attractions, Mariner’s Wharf in Hout Bay, has announced it is closing indefinitely because of the coronavirus lockdown.

Usually serving hundreds of tourists a day, peaking to thousands during the busy holiday season, Mariner’s Wharf is a major attraction to the harbour town. Now, no one is allowed to come to frequent its curio stores, bars, bistros or its famous restaurant, the Wharfside Grill. 

After surviving for three-and-a-half decades, the establishment has been unable to survive its first extended closure. 

“Despite having spent many weeks and sleepless nights trying to find viable alternatives to overcoming the disruptions caused by the coronavirus, which continues to devastate the world, other factors were also taken into consideration and played a crucial role in this decision,” said businesses owner Stanley Dorman in a statement. 

“We decided to draw a line to halt further expenditure and to mothball Mariner’s Wharf until our economy and international tourism recovers. Effective from this month, we will be retrenching employees, the exceptions being elements of essential services such as in our security and maintenance departments.” The statement added that the company intends to guarantee affected staff full retrenchment packages. 

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, Dorman lamented the effects of the global health crisis on businesses that require tourists to sustain them. 

“We can only hope that it’s not for good. If there’s a solution to the coronavirus, and hoping that tourism — which is one of the mainstays of Hout Bay — returns. Of course, we don’t have a single tourist coming in. We don’t have a single boat that’s coming in. And we feel absolutely isolated. Not only for me but also for most people and businesses in Hout Bay.”

The crisis not only affects Dorman’s family-run business but also the scores of staff members who are now out of jobs. Mariner’s Wharf usually employs 150 people, with that growing to 200 in the tourist season.  

Although Dorman hopes that a quick global recovery might mean he can start operations in the future, the prognosis is not good. This is the holiday season for Western travellers and people from China and Japan, who can spend money because of their strong currencies. So, even if international travel returns this year, they will only be returning in a year’s time. 

He adds: “As things presently stand I don’t think anything is going to happen, even on a small scale from maybe November or December. And certainly, we won’t be profitable from an operational point of view until sometime next year.”

The decision to shut shop of a Cape institution has caught many by surprise but has brought home the realities of the effects of the lockdown on tourism businesses. 

Cape Town Tourism’s head, Enver Duminy, says: “The decision to close its business operations indefinitely is not a surprise to us in the tourism industry. We see many tourism businesses coming to a standstill and fighting for survival due to the extensive travel bans imposed by the government as a measure to stop the spread of Covid-19.”

On the government’s five-tier, risk-adjusted strategy for easing the lockdown, tourism is on the lowest level — level one. Duminy says this “means that these shocks of the closure of tourism businesses including the significant shedding of jobs will continue unabated”. 

Tourism bodies say they will continue to lobby the government to upgrade local tourism to at least level three, and domestic tourism to level two with assurance to enhance safety protocols to keep staff and guests safe. 

Earlier this week, Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane told a parliamentary committee that South African tourism could regress to pre-1994 numbers. 

And although there is a R200-million emergency tourism bailout fund available, relief is capped at R50 000 per business, meaning only 4 000 recipients will benefit. The tourism department told parliament more than 11 000 applications for funding have been received.

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Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit is a Reporter, Journalist, and Broadcaster.

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