/ 11 February 2022

Tourism sector braces for Covid-19 fifth wave

Safrica Health Virus Tourism
A rickshaw puller goes about his business with tourists on a ride at Durban's North Beach. (Rajesh Jantilal/AFP)

South Africa’s tourism sector is one of the industries hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, yet there are still impediments preventing its recovery, said Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, chief executive of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa.

The first, he said, was the PCR test that detects the presence of the virus and is required for travel into and out of South Africa. Another are the restrictions regarding public events such as sport and music festivals. 

He was speaking at a forum in Cape Town on Thursday, ahead of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address.

Another impediment, Tshivhengwa said, could be a fifth wave of new Covid-19 infections. “The fifth wave is coming, there will be new variants. It will happen. We just need to find a way to circumvent this.” 

The Global Advocacy Programme was launched in 2021 by the department of tourism, SA Tourism and the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) to help the sector grapple with the fallout from the pandemic.

South African Tourism acting chief executive Themba Khumalo said: “We are trying to catalyse domestic tourism while we simultaneously drive international tourism as international markets open.”

Mojanku Gumbi, chairperson of SA Tourism, said: “Domestic tourism is the bedrock of our establishment. We need to understand our country before we can sell it. We also need to have the right packages for the right people.” 

Tourism is a key contributor to South Africa’s economic growth, accounting for 8.7% of GDP in 2019, prior to the global health crisis. According to Statistics South Africa, foreign arrivals dropped by 71% from more than 15.8-million in 2019 to less than  five million in 2020.

Tshivhengwa said the tourism sector lost 470 000 direct and indirect jobs as a result of the pandemic.

With President Cyril Ramaphosa recently relaxing Covid-19 restrictions, there appears to be cautious optimism for better days. 

But, in his sixth State of the Nation address on Thursday, Ramaphosa made no specific mention of the recovery of the tourism sector, disappointing industry leaders.

“I expected the president to emphasise that tourism is central to the growth of the economy,” Tshivhengwa told the Mail & Guardian after Sona. “The reason being is that it’s an easier way to get people to work, it’s an easier way to stimulate the economy and it’s an easier way to attract people that will be coming in from other countries. If they come for leisure or business, they are able to invest into the country.

In his address, the president only mentioned the tourism sector when he spoke of streamlining and modernising the visa application process to make it easier to travel to South Africa for tourism, business and work.

“He was very detailed in other aspects of the economy but when he came to tourism he spoke about the eVisa, which is a project that has been ongoing for many many years and  has not yet been implemented,” Tshivhengwa said. 

“I wish he would have put more emphasis on how we grow our economy and how we get more people employed within tourism.”

Anathi Madubela is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the M&G.