GARDEN ROUTE NEWS - Guest houses and other accommodation establishments in the Garden Route have been crippled by booking cancellations since the region was declared a Covid-19 hotspot.
A survey conducted by George, Wilderness and Uniondale Tourism found that a significant number of holidaymakers have cancelled their bookings following the announcement of beach closures in the Garden Route last Monday night, said tourism manager Joan Shaw.
A sample of 36 establishments were used for the survey, which shows devastating effects.
"An average occupancy of 70% was measured pre-announcement and this dropped on average by 15 - 20% after the announcement by the President," said Shaw.
She said the sample is only 10% of the municipal area's accommodation establishments, but even so, the revenue loss is estimated at R3,351-million. "So, the total cancellations applied throughout will have a devastating effect on the tourism industry in our area, not to mention the livelihoods of the employees and contractors affected."
Beach closures to blame
This trend identified by the local tourism offices was confirmed by NightsBridge, a large online booking system provider that has provided similar statistics. For their survey, the company used information gathered from 189 clients in the Garden Route, including B&Bs, guest houses, boutique hotels and apartment owners. Of these, a total of 85,71% (162 clients) reported cancellations due to closed beaches.
The survey revealed that one-third of guest houses in the Garden Route has lost at least 50% of their bookings for the festive season. "While the hotspot declarations started the cancellations off from the end of November, we saw an acceleration in cancellations after the announcement on Monday evening," said Theresa Emerick, NightsBridge managing director.
This followed after about 20 000 bookings meant to arrive in December and January were cancelled in the two weeks prior to Monday’s notice, according to Emerick.
"Most small accommodation owners had pinned their hopes of survival on their bookings for the season," she said. "These hopes were dashed with the announcement Monday evening that all beaches in the Garden Route would be closed till January. The effect on the surrounding tourism economy, including restaurants, activity suppliers and supermarkets is devastating. There is still time to repeal this regulation to repair some damage to an industry sector that had already suffered immensely this year."
Knysna areas hit hardest
The figures released by NightsBridge indicate that the Knysna and Sedgefield area has been hit the hardest by the recent amendment of coronavirus level 1 regulations, with over R1,16-million in online bookings cancelled. The loss in revenue for other coastal towns are as follows: Mossel Bay and surrounds R643 795, Plettenberg Bay R767 165 and Wilderness R643 795. Emerick said all their calculations took note of the season till end of February.
The 22 guesthouses in the George municipal area (George, Herold's Bay, Glentana and Victoria Bay) that replied to the survey had 89 cancellations between them, with an average loss of income of 33,41%. "Three guesthouses in George reported that they lost 60, 70 and 80% of all their bookings for the coming season respectively," said Emerick.
The estimation by owners who responded to the survey indicates a total loss in revenue in the Garden Route of R11-million, Emerick said
"On the NightsBridge online bookings alone, we captured a loss of R3,9-million," said Emerick. "Twelve guesthouses indicated they had an 80 to 100% loss in revenue, which would make it difficult or impossible for them to survive. The rand figures we quote can be doubled in most cases since prices were so deeply discounted. That's why my online revenue loss is less than what the properties reported as their 'loss'." She said 92 clients indicated that they have postponements (249 in total) of bookings for early next year, April 2021 and further.
Extended Ters request
Western Cape Minister of Finance and Economic Opportunities David Maynier requested that national government extend the UIF/Ters relief to businesses and employees operating in the Garden Route and other hotspots for the duration of the additional restrictions. Maynier wrote to the national Minister of Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, last Thursday 17 December. "I have also requested that her department consider any additional relief measures that can be provided to these businesses," he said.
By Tuesday 22 December, no ministerial feedback had been received.
In 2019, the Garden Route District had a GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of R62,2-billion and contributed 9,04% to the Western Cape's GDP and 1,22% to the GDP of South Africa. "There are an estimated 10 000 businesses in the Garden Route. All these businesses will be negatively impacted by the additional restrictions including the curfew and the full beach closure," said Maynier.
Anneke Botha of Mount View Resort said many of their December guests cancelled, reports George Herald subeditor Emsie Martin. "A third of our bookings were cancelled after the President made his announcement," said Botha. "Bookings on 16 December this year are 70% less than last year at the same time."
Mari Liebenberg of George Country Resort said their bookings too were drastically affected by the beach closure. "Most of the guests come from the inland and use the opportunity to go to sea. From 14 to 18 December, there were about 11 cancellations. Compared to this time last year the bookings are shocking. Last year there were about 68 campers (caravans), where this year there are only 24. The chalets are also not fully booked like last year."
George Herald journalist Eugene Gunning reports that, apart from the beaches, all activities at SANParks are open. Nandi Mgwadlamba, spokesperson for SANParks in the Garden Route, said accommodation is at a quota of 70% as well, including chalets, cabins and camping. At this point it stands at an estimated 30% less than last year. "We often tally the figures in January and can report on occupancy levels more accurately then," she said.
Top eight reasons for cancellations
Among the reasons cited for the Garden Route cancellations are:
- The hotspot declaration - travellers felt unsafe to travel.
- Fears of contracting Covid-19.
- Beach closures.
- The potential matric exam paper rewrite.
- Covid-19 in a family group.
- The cancellation of the Plett Rage.
- Flights cancelled or new curfews making flight times impossible.
- New lockdowns in European countries
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