TGIFOOD

VAXXING ISSUE

Restaurants rattled as tourism season approaches

The Mother City waits to find out what the forthcoming tourism season will bring. (Photo: Dewald Van Rensburg from Pixabay)

As the active number of Covid cases drops and international borders open for travel, it’s crucial to maintain this status quo for the sake of tourism; it’s no time to be complacent. But who’s standing in the way?

So. Here we are. Five hundred and seventy-something days since that now-distant day in March 2020 which seems a little unreal now. We’ve all been through so much, lost so much, to get to Level 1 (adjusted) of lockdown which, let’s be honest, hardly feels like lockdown at all any more.

At one point, we were shaking our fists impotently at the government for not procuring vaccines. Then the vaccines came but where are the people? Part of the not-fully-vaccinated problem is the apathy towards that second date. A lot of us are pretty useless at following up, even if we did get there in the first place. It’s like sending someone an email with three questions (with bullets or numbers) and they answer one, so you have to ask again.

But that’s no excuse. Someone asked me the other day why we are getting upset about the unvaccinated. Surely their stupid will catch up with them in the form of a bad dose of the plague, and weed them out that way? It’s a good point, and it would be great if they were the only ones affected. But with vast numbers of humans running around at crowded events, without masks or social distancing (yes, those are still things) and without the benefit of being vaccinated, there’s a very good chance the number of cases will shoot up again and the dreaded fourth wave could hit us in December. Smack bang in the middle of the summer tourist season we are all rejoicing about right now.

This is not only my opinion; Google it. The stories are there. I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone about our last bleak festive season.

Our hospitality and tourism industries have been through hell and they are only now clawing their way back. In some countries, “vaccination passports” have been implemented for public spaces. Will they work here, the country where red traffic lights are regarded as a guideline rather than a rule for stopping? Then there’s the question of “mandatory” vaccination in the workplace. Did you know you have the right to comment on the lawmaking process? Yes indeed. 

The Department of Employment and Labour issued a directive which expressly permits an employer to implement a mandatory vaccination policy subject to certain guidelines. You can read and learn more at Dear South Africa, and have your say, as well as be informed before you start yelling about your rights and whether your money suddenly isn’t good enough at a restaurant and how dare the government hold you down and force you to be vaccinated because you did your own research. As a colleague, Keith Bain, pointed out, he’d rather not catch any preventable disease from a waiter, like polio or smallpox.

And let’s not forget, those potential tourists with their pounds and euros are doing research of their own. Covid aside, we all have a few countries we don’t want to visit. Personally, Afghanistan isn’t high on my list.

“We at Cape Town Tourism believe that many international travellers will look to the vaccination rates within South Africa as a guide to how confident they are in choosing Cape Town as their holiday destination of choice,” said Enver Duminy, CEO.

“Consequently, we have launched our vaccination campaign called Vaccinations. Our Best Shot to encourage our South African citizens, including our team members, and our communities, to get the vaccine if they are eligible.

“We are also hard at work launching an international campaign in order to attract tourists back to our beautiful city – a large part of this is to instil messages of safety and for their part, the Cape Town tourism industry has made notable changes to ensure the safety of their patrons. 

“The way restaurants arrange their seating plans has changed, hotels have adapted to serve food in a completely new manner, and hotel check-ins are becoming increasingly digital. Gone are the days of congested queues at tourist attractions. Additionally, many establishments have changed their menus, improved outdoor offerings, and upgraded certain facilities, as well as embraced a digital approach which minimises personal interactions.

“We believe that as a modern tool for allowing vaccinated citizens to access specific countries, as well as sports and recreation in South Africa, the digital vaccination passport is a valuable one. The UK has also now confirmed they will accept the digital passport and that South Africans with this document will be allowed entry into the country without quarantine. While this digital system may take a few more months to fully implement, we are happy that the government is using it to encourage citizens to play their part and get their ‘jab’ in an effort to rebuild the tourism industry.”

I asked a number of people – restaurateurs, hoteliers, chefs, and normal everyday humans and friends – for their thoughts on vaccinations (mandatory or otherwise) in and out of the specific workplace, as well as their feelings on vaccinated and unvaccinated guests. There are many concerns and viewpoints in common, but one size does not fit all. 

Nicolette Waterford, group adviser for Leeu Collection, said yes, the group supports vaccination for its staff. “Having undertaken our own risk assessments in line with the Consolidated Direction on Occupational Health and Safety issued on June 11, 2021, and our responsibility to ensure the health and safety of both our employees and third parties (visitors, suppliers and guests), we have decided to implement a mandatory workplace vaccination policy for all Leeu Collection companies and their employees.

“Most of our guests are international travellers and they do ask about our vaccination policy, what percentage of staff are vaccinated, etc. It will definitely build travel confidence if the hospitality industry, in fact, all industries made vaccination mandatory.  

“We believe that it is incumbent on our industry to show local and international travellers that South Africa and Franschhoek are travel ready and that we take their safety and that of our employees seriously. We are cognisant of global trends by which we benchmark the standards expected by our international visitors.”

At the time of the interview, 98% of Leeu Collection staff had been vaccinated, with the goal of 100% by November 1.

“We actively encourage and educate staff members who are hesitant, and have done so since the vaccine became available. We aim to facilitate a workplace culture where staff feel empowered and informed,” said Waterford.

Measures include consulting staff who are hesitant, making appointments and registering them for vaccinations, providing transport to and from vaccination sites, and days off after vaccination.

“Our colleagues, our partners and our businesses continue to be affected by Covid-19, if not directly, then through the absence of our international visitors. We have been watching the international approach to vaccinations closely, including the roll out of vaccine passports for entry to certain public spaces, restaurants, events and as a requirement in place for travel to and from certain countries.

“It is evident that similar considerations are being made by the South African Government which will directly impact on our industry. We support this initiative, as it will build travel confidence and hopefully help the hospitality industry recover faster.”

Leeu Collection does not require proof of vaccination from its guests at the moment, but Waterford said it is being discussed and could be implemented in 2022. “Country of origin will not influence whether we ask for proof of vaccination. We do believe it will become mandatory in South Africa, as it is in many other countries already.”

As the world gears up to being travel-ready, Leeu Collection has had inquiries about its staff’s vaccination status, with concerns about the overall low rate in our country. 

“Most experts do not see a return to pre-pandemic 2019 levels happening before 2023. By stepping up vaccination and building consumer confidence, we can hopefully recover sooner. As a country we need to increase our national vaccination rate to rebuild travel confidence,” said Waterford.

Cape Point Vineyards puts bread on the table and a roof over the heads of over 150 team members. Without a flourishing tourism trade, this will be lost. (Photo: Supplied)

There’s a local website which I’m loath to share because frankly I don’t think the rhetoric is helpful, and is rather biased. It’s calling out many companies, big and small, on the topic of mandatory vaccinations. One is Cape Point Vineyards in Noordhoek.

“To be honest – I do not support mandatory vaccination – that is just a label ascribed to Cape Point Vineyards by anti vaxxers who hold the rather racist and extremely offensive belief that my staff are incapable of or do not have the mental capacity to make the choice to protect their health and their livelihoods by getting the vaccine,” said co-owner Lizanne van der Spuy.

“Cape Point Vineyards puts bread on the table and a roof over the heads of over 150 team members (and often their extended families) by hosting thousands of guests at our restaurants and selling hundreds of thousand bottles of wine. Trying to assist these workers over the past financial year when we were not allowed to run at even a quarter of our capacity at the restaurant and by not being allowed to sell wine for much of the year, has very much bled our industry dry.  

“I have no more savings left; I have shared every last cent with my team during last year’s lockdowns. If I am not going to be allowed to trade at full capacity this season, if we are not going to be a safe country for tourists to visit, if I am not going to be allowed to sell wine – 150+ families will literally lose the roof over their heads and the bread on their table.

“It’s easy enough to condemn those who do want to get vaccinated when you have the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom crunching on organic kale. As for my team – we simply do not have that luxury,” she said, issuing a “universal appeal to everyone in the alcohol, hospitality and tourism industries and to everyone who has a loved one in the alcohol, hospitality and tourism industries – please, get vaccinated. 

“Or at least ensure that you are properly informed and armed with facts before deciding to refuse.”

Distell represents several alcohol brands, including Nederburg, in Paarl, where this delicious burger was captured. (Photo: Bianca Coleman)

Distell, the umbrella under which there are several high-profile alcohol brands, was also called out.

Communications manager Dennis Matsane said: “Distell, like all South African citizens and organisations, is very concerned about the pandemic, particularly its impact on lives and livelihoods. In our view, vaccination remains the only viable path out of this pandemic that will allow a sustainable return to normal life and full economic activity, as the vaccine provides an additional layer of protection against Covid-19.

“To this extent, the company has turned some of its sites into vaccination centres for its employees and members of the public. That said, getting the vaccine is still a personal choice for Distell employees. We do, however, continue to review our company’s position in this regard, to ensure that it remains consistent with developments in the management of Covid-19.”

Sun International showed its support by opening vaccination sites for staff and the public at GrandWest (Cape Town), Carnival City (Gauteng), Sun City, Wild Coast Sun (Eastern Cape) and Sibaya in Durban.

“The current vaccine rollout in South Africa is encouraging, but the issue of vaccine passports and placing restrictions on unvaccinated individuals is something for the government to decide on,” said Graham Wood, Sun International’s Group chief operating officer.

“We align with government policy and as current regulation does not restrict the movement of people, there is also no restriction on who can visit our properties. Should the government change the regulation in the future, we will review our operations accordingly, as we have done throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Sun International currently has no policy in place that requires staff to be vaccinated, but we obviously encourage them to do so.”

Many large corporations, including Sun International and Distell, set up vaccination sites around the country, for their staff as well as members of the public. (Photo: Supplied)

Eendracht Hotel & Apartments in Stellenbosch received an immensely positive response when it made its 100% (voluntary) vaccination rate public, and owner Daniel Lutz says he is in favour of mandatory vaccinations in this industry. “The number of contact points and duration of contact between the staff and the guest is most probably the highest of any profession, apart from the medical and caring fields. And numerous peer reviewed studies tell us that proximity is the quickest way for the virus to spread.

“I also pay every year for my staff to get the flu vaccine because of the same reasons. It’s a bit of a no-brainer.”

While Lutz agrees with vaccination passports, he said those who do not want to get vaccinated for whatever reason, can decide for themselves. “There are certain environments, for instance a big indoor sporting event which we know is a huge incubator for the spread of the virus, where the vaccine certificate could be a very effective tool.” 

Vaccinations, particularly for front of house staff (unless there is a medical reason not to do so) should be mandatory, said William Stephens, owner of De Hoop Collection in the Overberg, where this week’s tally is 92% vaccinated. “Guests need to be assured of safety with front of house staff,” he said. Staff members who are not vaccinated will be moved from front of house roles. “Tour operators and agents are requesting information on our vaccination status of employees and are particularly concerned about front of house staff being vaccinated,” said Stephens.

“Throughout lockdown, and to date, we haven’t received any queries from guests as to whether or not our staff have been vaccinated or not. Their main concern is the level of care we take in making sure our staff members and guests alike are following all of the necessary Covid-19 protocols as mandated by our Government, and whether or not the layout of the hotel has sufficient open and airy public areas/spaces,” said Paul Duverge, group GM for Cape Summer Villas (and MD of Sky Villa Boutique Hotel in Plettenberg Bay).

“In terms of compliance, we have gone above and beyond to ensure the safety of our guests and staff. When lockdown was first implemented, we partnered with our chemical supplier Hychem to ensure that our staff were properly trained in the methods of prevention, as well as which chemicals to use on which surfaces to ensure maximum cleanliness and sanitation. We invested a lot of money in PPE, as well as the installation of hand sanitising stations throughout the hotel. This is very important to us as a collection and our guests.”

When dealing with such a sensitive subject (and I can’t help but picture villagers with pitchforks), it’s important to get both sides of a story. Gerard Holden of Holden Manz said, “Franschhoek Wine Valley is pursuing a vaccination of all staff and families in the valley. A number of farms, restaurants and guest houses are fully vaccinated including Holden Manz. Outlier is La Petite Ferme which refuses to have their staff vaccinated and won’t facilitate it for them.”

La Petite Ferme’s GM, Riaan Kruger, responded: “At La Petite Ferme we obviously follow all the necessary protocols to ensure a safe environment for our guests (and staff) to enjoy what we have to offer.  

“Regardless if vaccinated or not, everyone has to follow the same property-specific protocols (which we have been complimented on a few times already). Our stance is every person has his/her freedom to CHOOSE if they want to get vaccinated or not for whatever reason, regardless if it is an employee or a guest. We don’t impose anything on anyone nor enforce mandatory vaccinations. 

“We have facilitated time off for those employees who wanted to get vaccinated. We are also not expecting anyone to disclose their vaccination status to anyone. So in short, we don’t require proof of vaccination for guests and staff.”

‘I believe getting vaccinated is our collective social responsibility,’ said Matt Manning, owner of Grub & Vine and Culture Wine Bar, pictured here with his team. (Photo: Tegan Smith Photography)

Matt Manning, owner of Grub & Vine and Culture Wine Bar in the Cape Town city centre, said he believes getting vaccinated is our collective social responsibility. “It’s something I feel very strongly about. We moaned about lockdown – well, now here’s our chance to end all restrictions, while looking after ourselves and each other,” he said.

“While I have not (at least not yet) made it mandatory for our employees to be vaccinated, I have strongly encouraged it by offering time off work to get vaccinated, lifts to vaccination sites, and whatever else I can do to encourage our team members to go. I have also told them to chat to me if they have any fears or concerns, and I do my best to allay them – or point them in the right direction of the resources they need. 

“It’s also important that I set an example, so the minute I was able to get my vaccine I did, and made sure all staff knew about it. So far it seems to be working, and almost our whole team is now vaccinated.

“In terms of enforcing vaccination mandates for patrons, this is something we are still discussing. We have previously offered incentives to vaccinated guests (they got a free glass of bubbles on presentation of their vaccination card), but we haven’t (yet) made it mandatory for all patrons to be vaccinated.

“We want to do our part to encourage people to get vaccinated, however it is tricky because we are also a hospitality business that was hard hit by Covid-19. We are figuring it out as we go along.”

It’s simply a public health emergency we all have to take responsibility for, said Tracy Orione, co-owner of Massimo’s in Hout Bay, another restaurant named by “that site”, which judging by the feedback received here, is trafficking in fake news.

She and husband, the eponymous Massimo, are encouraging and supporting their staff to be vaccinated, as they believe it’s the only way to protect all staff and clients. “The risks for everyone are too great as we cannot work in isolation. 

“At the moment, there are a few staff members with health issues that need more information and support before they vaccinate. We have had a doctor come to speak to all our staff and asked anyone with medical concerns to seek their own medical advice and let us know the outcome,” said Orione. 

“Prospective employees that are at least partially vaccinated will be given priority for interviews.” 

Pirates in Plumstead has been accused, too, of unconstitutionally enforcing vaccinations on its staff. Owner Julie Huckle does believe it should be mandatory but the 90% vaccination rate at this steakhouse is because two are pregnant and two staff members who had Covid recently have to wait. There are a further four who are still hesitant, said Huckle. “We will sit with them one on one and tackle each and every concern that they may have. We have looked at the stats worldwide and have absolute faith in the scientists who have developed this vaccine.”

Huckle believes a vaccination passport has its place in certain environments, such as night clubs where people will be interacting with strangers. “In a restaurant scenario where people stay seated with their own party it is not as vital,” she said. “It may, however, be prudent to introduce it for a short while as we try to bring the pandemic to an end,” she allowed.

That said, Huckle added that apart from wishing to keep staff safe, she has engaged with many customers over the past six months with regard to Covid and their views. “The overriding majority expressed a desire to visit establishments where they will be interacting with fully vaccinated staff,” she said.

“On a side note, we do currently offer a 10% vaccination discount to our Pirates patrons, to both reward them for taking action against Covid and to open discussions around this pandemic which almost brought us to our knees. We also feel that as an established business with 31 years of trading it would be remiss of us not to use the platform we have to encourage the vaccination rollout to both save lives and save jobs.”

Justine Seymour owns Bacon on Brie which trades at the Oranjezicht City Farm Market at Granger Bay, as does her husband Richard Bosman with his quality cured meats (which can be bought online too). Without the swallows who understand his products better than locals do, his numbers are down a devastating 70%, Seymour shared with me.

Regarding vaccine mandates, she is all for it. “In my (maybe not so humble) opinion, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. I am vaccinated so that local businesses in Cape Town can start to see the benefits of tourism again. If you are not vaccinated and believe this a personal choice issue, then you are selfishly not looking beyond your own silver plated specs,” she said.

Justine Seymour, who runs the Bacon On Brie stand at Oranjezicht City Farm Market, says: ‘If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.’ (Photo: Oranjezicht City Farm Market)

“This is a global health issue. And until we can put an end to lockdowns, we will continue to live under ridiculous rules which drive our already weak economy into the dirt. 

“I have taken steps to ensure that I don’t support any anti-vaxxer businesses. I have left my hair stylist, among other service providers who are not vaccinated. I also choose to support hotels and restaurants who only accept vaccinated guests. I explained to my own staff why the vaccine is so important to us. They are now all vaccinated. 

“I feel strongly about this because I have seen exactly how reliant Cape Town is on international tourism.”

It’s not all about the restaurants and hotels that are trying to reclaim their businesses; guests’ opinions matter too. I put out an open call on Facebook and surprisingly received only one “negative” response, from a woman who requested she remain anonymous. I’m bound by some kind of old school moral oath to uphold that. “I personally find it offensive that vaccinated people get a discount. I chose not to vaccinate, because I believe we need our immune systems to beat this, or it will never go away. I have no issue with other people’s choices however,” she said. 

“We have been regulars at a nearby restaurant for years, and never asked for a discount, or been offered one… And now our health choices are good enough for a discount…My two cents. Good luck with the article.”

Back to the rational and intelligent. “Yes and yes,” said Susan Hayden to workplace vaccination and vaccination passports. “It’s how countries like Denmark beat the virus. No vaccine, no entry to anywhere. It works. In these special circumstances freedom is about all of us being free to resume our normal lives, not the paranoid few keeping the rest of us imprisoned.”

Answering as a regular visitor/tourist to SA, Lisa Harlow from Leeds, UK, said, “I’m afraid I’m not booking anything yet; your low vaccination rates really worry me, so a vaccine passport or hospitality workers being vaccinated would make a huge difference to me. I’m really hoping to be back in March next year, or earlier if I feel safe!”

Capetonian Nancy Filmalter commented that she “would definitely favour restaurants where I know the staff have been vaccinated over those that haven’t”.

I have to quote Keith Bain (remember him from the beginning of the story?) because he’s too funny and too brilliant with words not to. “While I deep down think people not getting vaccinated are tools, I’m kind of at the point now where I want the wristband that allows me to wander around, travel, enter, do, play, party and whatever, without needing to worry about the stupid and the selfish,” he said. 

“I want to walk into my yoga studio and not have to wear a mask and not have to be thinking on behalf of the self-entitled naysayers of crystal-channelling dipshits. I want to go into Woolworths and hug the ladies who have tireless worked as cashiers and managed the shop and smiled at me with their eyes for the last 20 months, while the unvaccinated must take care of themselves, bubble-wrap and mask up and preferably stay out of restaurants and markets and other places where food is served to responsible human beings. 

“Sure, it’s a choice and it’s your body and whatever you tell yourself so you can sleep at night, but if your choice means you’re not qualified to participate in social and public life, then please – by all means – enjoy your Uber Eats special deal from KFC. But I want to see the faces of my waiters and my chefs and the other beautiful people who work in hospitality, and I don’t want them endangered by the people from Planet Stupid nor the Constellation of Dumbfuckery.”

And when there’s nothing to improve upon, we end the story. DM/TGIFood

The writer supports The Gift of the Givers Foundation, the largest disaster response, non-governmental organisation of African origin on the African continent.

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