NATIONAL NEWS - In a media briefing on Saturday evening, Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane announced what lay in store for her sector with the move to alert level 3 lockdown from 1 June.
She said the past two months of lockdown had given government room to build up an extensive public health response and prepare the health system for a possible increased infection rate, but it had come at great collateral cost.
“The past two months of lockdown have been difficult for the tourism sector. We continued to see many businesses in the sector fighting for survival and our projections showed that almost 600,000 jobs were at risk if the sector doesn’t come into operation by September 2020. This reality led to both government and private sector working together to be both innovative and putting protocol guidelines to get the sector back into operation.”
The minister said the ongoing difficulty was that most tourism could still only take place at alert level 2 and more largely at level 1, “because our sector is largely interactive, hence our focus has been on both de-risking the sector and putting health protocols that can give comfort of safety not only to government but to our clients, including domestic tourists”.
Her department had committed to working towards finding solutions with partners to find solutions to protect the public as the sector was reopened. She said discussions were happening to open up more subsectors during the course of level 3.
Tourism under level 3
She said various tourism and hospitality activities would, however, be allowed to resume under level 3 from 1 June.
- Restaurants for delivery or collection of food. “Restaurants with liquor licences are allowed to sell alcohol only for takeout and delivery. In this area there’s been an outcry that they must be allowed for onsite consumption. We are in discussions with restaurants so that whatever solution is provided in this regard for sit-down doesn’t perpetuate the inequality and we are confident that in our next submission to the NCCC this will be considered.”
- Professional services, eg, tourist guides, tour operators, travel agents, tourism information officers would be allowed to come back to operations.
- Professional services including the training of nature guides and other related services that were able to ensure safe distance would be allowed.
- Public and private game farms would be allowed for self-drive excursions.
- Hiking would be allowed in compliance with existing guidelines and not in groups.
- Accommodation activities would be allowed, except for leisure. Establishments would no longer require a letter from the minister to operate. They would be required to ensure that they accommodated those in permitted services and kept records for inspections by the department.
- Hunting and gaming activities would be allowed.
The following economic activities would remain prohibited under level 3 and these included:
- Conferences, events, entertainment activities (such as festivals) would still not be permitted. “It must be noted that some of the conference venues have been used in the fight against the pandemic and as such are allowed to be operational, including being used for distribution points of social relief measures,” said the minister.
- Casinos would still not be permitted.
- Leisure travel would not be permitted.
The minister welcomed the opening of domestic commercial flights, which had been opened for business travel for now as part of interprovincial movement, as announced earlier by Minister Fikile Mbalula.
“The tourism sector will benefit immensely from this step as travel is an integral part of tourism.”
She encouraged car rentals as a critical enabler of tourism and movement of people to come to full operation.
“We also welcome the fact that those approved to travel are allowed to use long-distance public transport to do so from 1 June, including interprovincial travel. The accommodation and restaurants subsector and other related services will benefit immensely from these activities.”
She said the opening up of hunting would be a big boost to the tourism sector.
“The hunting industry contributes an estimated R2 billion (direct spending) annually to the tourism sector and it also contributes to employment in rural areas. So, this is an important step towards the recovery of the sector.”
Her department had developed directions for the tourism sector to either enhance or provide further clarity on the existing regulations issued to limit the spread of the virus – and in a manner that they could be adaptable in a rapidly changing context.
“We support a responsible approach by the sector in coming up with innovative ways to prevent the spread of the virus. However, all protocols should be accessible and not preventive to smaller players in the sector.
“In this regard, I welcome the commitment by the industry, particularly the bigger players, to provide support to small players, through training and other means to ensure sector-wide compliance.”
She encouraged all the major players in the tourism sector including product owners and tourism to continue to engage to develop a response that was “measured and consistent, proportionate to the public health threat and based on local risk assessment, involving every part of the tourism value chain”.
President Cyril Ramaphosa had the previous week held discussions with the tourism sector about the challenges and hardships the sector and its subsectors were experiencing.
“They have made several proposals regarding the measures they intend to implement when their sectors open. All input received is being given due consideration. More importantly, there was a commitment by government, led by the president and the private sector, to work towards getting more tourism activities into enhanced level 3 or level 3 reloaded. This means that our sector still has an opportunity for opening up more subsectors at level 3.”
Based on the Covid-19 epidemic expected trajectory, she said the first phase of the recovery for the sector would be driven by domestic tourism, followed by regional tourism and international tourism in 2021.
“Although we will be gradually opening up the sector in the coming months, depending on how the virus is spreading, we expect that the sector will only fully recover towards the end of this year.
“We have a beautiful country that will still be beautiful after the Covid-19 pandemic. Post-Covid-19, people will still yearn to visit beautiful places and create memorable moments with their loved ones. We have plans in place to, as soon as the world begins to open up, resume marketing our country and rebuilding our brand.”
To ensure that SMMEs in the tourism sector survived the crisis, the government had put together its tourism relief fund.
“The application window for the Covid-19 Tourism Relief Fund will close on 31 May 2020 (which is tomorrow). The Tourism Relief Fund provides a once-off capped grant of R50,000 per entity to subsidise expenses towards fixed costs, operational costs, and other pressure cost items.”
She said more than 6,000 completed applications for grant assistance had been received from across the country.
Most of the applications were from businesses that provided accommodation services (2,495), followed by hospitality (1,825), travel-related services (1,780) and others (662).
She said they had received feedback from applicants who had experienced a number of challenges when they attempted to apply for the fund through their online system.
“Some had difficulties uploading documents on to the system, some requested many times to submit documents they had already submitted and some were unable to access the system.”
She encouraged those that still had outstanding documents to submit them before the closing date.
“The department will accept email submissions. We have a team working around the clock today and tomorrow, calling each and every applicant considered eligible with outstanding documents to submit before the end of tomorrow.
“I am told that so far, the calls the team has made to some of the SMMEs have yielded positive results and these SMMEs will be receiving the much-needed relief.”
Relief funding for tour guides
Tour guides had expressed their plight to her on how various governmental relief initiatives had neglected them.
“I went back to the department and had a discussion about what can be done to assist this subsector. As you are aware, the tour guiding subsector is dominated by freelancers and independent contractors with no job security and for this reason the government relief schemes including the tourism relief fund did not cover them.”
In response, the department had come up with an additional financial relief mechanism for tourist guides.
“We have set aside a total of R30 million, which will provide financial relief over a period of two to three months.”
The beneficiaries of this scheme would include:
- Tour guides registered with the registrar in terms of the Tourism Act, and
- Tour guides not employed by any company, and those that had not formed their own companies, which meant that they were freelancers or independent contractors without job security.
The department would make further provisions of personal protective equipment available to guides.
Source: Caxton publication, The Citizen