The South African tourism sector was hit hard by the impact of Covid-19 and the imposed national lockdown. With the reopening of borders, the tourism sector is now adjusting to the new normal.
It certainly will not be business as usual as the pandemic is still with us. However, provincial travel allowed under Level 2 in June has helped kickstart the tourism sector. People still want to travel, and they want to go where they will be safe.
Like many developing economies, South Africa relies on international tourism. This is according to the Minister of Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane speaking at Next Africa Summit, Virtual in September.
She noted that in 2019, the majority of global Travel & Tourism expenditure continued to be generated by domestic travel. This accounted for 71.3% of total global spending, with the remaining 28.7% coming from international visitors.
Tourism destination areas like Durban and Johannesburg are starting to see demand since the country moved to Lockdown Level 1.
Although disposable incomes have been reduced, a large middle-class consumer base in South Africa can afford to, and want to travel. “We are confident that the opening of borders will stimulate the market further,” says Tsogo Sun CEO Marcel von Aulock.
He says general consumer spend has shifted slightly. However, there is an uptake in spend, particularly from a food and beverage perspective.
City Lodge Group Chief operating officer Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo says they have noticed a definite growth in demand in Durban. Durban is accessible by car from various parts of South Africa. “Locals and domestic travellers find Durban to be a great getaway, especially after months of lockdown.”
During lockdown, some of its hotels were open for repatriated South Africans needing quarantine facilities and essential services workers.
City Lodge hotels in Durban are well-located – close to major amenities and beaches in Umhlanga and surrounds. These include City Lodge and Road Lodge Durban, City Lodge Umhlanga Ridge, Town Lodge Umhlanga and Road Lodge Umhlanga Ridge. “We expect demand to rise in December. This is as most travellers will opt to stay home and are unlikely to travel overseas,” says Sangweni-Siddo.
The group has 55 hotels in South Africa and hopes to open approximately 40 hotels by 19 October 2020. “We are opening our hotels in a phased response to business and leisure traveller demand.”
Sangweni-Siddo says since lockdown, the group has introduced accessible rates to the local and domestic markets. This was taking into account that business and leisure travellers have all taken a knock from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The group’s Covid-19 rates are still applicable to 2-, 3- and 4-star hotels. These range from R870 to R1,210 per room per night. To further boost demand, the group is offering reduced rates through ‘Weekend Special’ deals. Rates start from R749 per room per night (single or double occupancy) for Town Lodges, and up to R999.
Additional specials are on the cards with the summer holiday rates to start on 1 December through to 31 January 2021. “We appreciate that budgets are tight and these affordable rates would help our valued guests start planning their next trip.”
City Lodge is also beefing up its food and beverage experience with new concepts, menus, and offerings to wow returning guests.
Tsogo Sun says its rates are generally lower than prior to lockdown based on reduced overall demand. Von Aulock says they offer affordable rates at select properties through the ‘Emerge Into a World of Luxury’ getaway deals. Destinations include Mount Grace in Magaliesburg, Arabella in Cape Town, and the Beverly Hills in Durban.
The annual traditional summer holiday offer will launch on 26 October with favourable rates across key holiday destinations nationwide.
“We’ve always been strong on the local market, so we don’t have to change our marketing channels to access customers.”
The group has over 100 hotels in South Africa, Africa, and The Middle East. Currently, a fair amount of hotels are open to the market (including resorts). “We are constantly monitoring market trends, and will be opening more hotels as demand increases,” says Von Aulock.
What about the local and African market?
Sangweni-Siddo says the group is putting together packages for the inbound market from Africa. For example, shopping packages including hotel stay in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban. Visitors get packaged-access to centres like Sandton City, Mall of Africa, V&A Waterfront, and Gateway Theatre of Shopping in Umhlanga.
“What attracts visitors are the country’s local attractions, shopping, medical treatment, game lodges and parks.”
Hotel business post-Covid-19
Sangweni-Siddo says the pandemic has pushed them to be more innovative. The use of technology will increase to reduce touch points and facilitation of a contact-free environment for guests. As a result, guests can expect online check-ins, and using QR codes to access menus in restaurants.
“Covid-19 protocols will be at the forefront, and our ability to reassure guests of safe environments will be essential globally.”
According to Von Aulock, the tourism sector will look different post the pandemic. One main change is that big tour groups will be a thing of the past. “Guests will be looking for personalised, niche experiences that are safe and tailor-made. In the short-term, the older market segment will diminish due to health concerns associated with travelling and concentration of people.”
He points out that the way in which hotels operated has changed and some of the traditional services are no longer relevant in the current scenario.
There is more attention to safety and hygiene although these have always played a significant role in the hospitality sector.
“Our tourism sector has a lot to offer – and will continue to attract local and international travellers to our shores,” he concludes.