Many tourism businesses in KwaZulu-Natal say they were severely affected when South African scientists announced that they had discovered the new Omicron variant of Covid-19, causing several countries, including the UK and the USA, to impose a travel ban on South Africa and other countries in the region.
The UK has only just lifted the travel ban on South Africa and others who were placed on their “red list”, but this will have minimal impact. Many people will already have cancelled their bookings and made other plans.
The travel bans came at a time when the tourism sector in South Africa was still reeling from numerous lockdowns introduced since the pandemic swept the globe almost two years ago.
In January 2021, Durban’s Hilton Hotel – an award-winning 5-star establishment located next to the International Convention Centre (ICC) – was forced to close indefinitely due to lockdown losses. The ICC has also suffered major losses due to the cancellation of international conferences and other events.
Just last week, the ICC was due to host the International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa – just as the country was entering the fourth wave of Covid-19. It had to cancel in-person attendance after a “number of delegates… tested positive during registration”.
“The week-long conference was always planned to be hybrid, with 750 physical delegates at Durban ICC with the rest joining virtually,” read a statement from the national Department of Health.
George Naidoo, general manager of the Pavilion Hotel on Durban’s Marine Parade, said the pandemic has affected them severely.
“We rely on visitors from inland and overseas. When they don’t come, we suffer. We were hoping that we will recover somewhat during these holidays, but I don’t know whether this is still possible. But we will see,” he said.
Several other hotels in Durban said they are operating on skeleton staff and had to lay off casual staff due to predictions of a gloomy festive season.
Brett Tungay, chairperson of the East Coast region of the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa, said the cancellation of international flights and the fourth Covid wave has further devastated the industry.
He said despite this, the hospitality industry and tourism sector in the province are trying other measures to mitigate the impact of Covid-related lockdowns.
Tourism KZN projects that occupancy rates across the province will not go beyond 60% over the upcoming holiday season.
Phindile Makwakwa, Tourism KZN’s acting CEO, spoke of an initiative called Jab4Tourism, in which Tourism KZN is encouraging holidaymakers and the tourism sector at large to vaccinate.
“It goes without saying that the KZN tourism industry has been one of the hardest-hit industries since the start of the pandemic.
“As part of their tourism recovery strategy, domestic tourism became our main source market. We are also encouraging holidaymakers to get vaccinated ahead of their trip to the province. This will ensure that the tourism sector remains open and we can all enjoy our much-deserved holidays with comfort,” she said.
Brian Manyoni, general manager of the Jozini Tiger Lodge and Spa – located 340km north of Durban – said they are also vaccinating staff and other service providers.
“Currently, we have 80% of staff vaccinated; we work closely with the Department of Health to ensure we run onsite vaccinations for staff. Our goal is to get to 100% vaccination during the festive season,” he said
Manyoni added that “occupancy rates are currently sitting at 60%, and we are confident that this will increase within the coming week. As part of our safety measures and protocols, we ensure that we fumigate our rooms once a week as well as adhere to strict dining capacity at 50% inside and 50% outside, as this allows for social distancing and adequate ventilation.”
Some informal tourism businesses said they are also crossing their fingers that this festive season is different from last year, where the country was put on an adjusted Level 3 lockdown, which prohibited people from gathering and swimming in the sea.
Thembi Mdadane (59) is a Durban beachside hawker who sells beads, traditional hats, T-shirts, beach towels and other mementos. She said she hopes that more people will visit the beachfront this year as she and her fellow hawkers desperately need the business.
“We are hopeful. Last year we stayed for months at home without making a cent. The relief funds that the government and the municipality (eThekwini) promised did not materialise.
“At home nobody is working and I am hoping that business is good so that I will be able to put food on the table and pay school fees for my grandchildren,” she said.
This week the Durban Metro Police began deploying around the city and beachfront, with some manning roadblocks. Msawakhe Mayisela, spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, said they are ready to welcome visitors.
“Given the high volume of traffic associated with this period at the beachfront, access to certain roads will be controlled via boom gates. Road safety campaigns are underway to ensure that unroadworthy vehicles, drunken driving and any other irresponsible conduct on the road are dealt with.”
He urged visitors to enjoy themselves while remaining aware of the rising Covid-19 infection rate.
“With Covid numbers increasing countrywide, residents and visitors are urged to be vigilant and to strictly observe all Covid safety protocols. Vaccination sites will continue operating during the holiday period and the public is urged to vaccinate. Hands must be washed or sanitised regularly and an adequate social distance must be maintained at all times. The wearing of masks remains mandatory,” Mayisela said. DM