Misunderstanding Covid-19 management is harming SA’s tourism brand, minister warns

There are international misperceptions about the way SA is handling the coronavirus pandemic, warns Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane. It is important to clear up these misunderstandings, she said during a briefing about a recovery plan for SA’s important tourism sector. The recovery plan follows from input by the public and private […]

  • There are international misperceptions about the way SA is handling the coronavirus pandemic, warns Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.
  • It is important to clear up these misunderstandings, she said during a briefing about a recovery plan for SA’s important tourism sector.
  • The recovery plan follows from input by the public and private sectors.

There is a growing misunderstanding about how South Africa is managing the coronavirus pandemic – and the perception that there is a “new variant” of Covid-19 in SA has not helped, according to Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.

“The association of a Covid-19 variant with SA has had a negative impact on the country’s brand and the country has been placed on a travel alert by many countries,” she said during a briefing on Thursday about the Tourism Sector Recovery Plan, which Cabinet has approved. 

“We had various engagements with targeted source markets and embassies. What we find is more is more and more misunderstanding about how we manage the pandemic. They are shocked when we tell them we have low deaths and low infections. We need to clear up these misunderstandings and get that international market back,” said Kubayi-Ngubane. 

During the briefing, Sisa Ntshona, CEO of SA Tourism, also called for responsible reporting about the variant so as not to create a stigma against the country.

“The same thing happened when Cape Town experienced a drought a few years ago and there was a Day Zero narrative. It made international travellers think the whole of SA is without water,” he said. “The variant is not unique to SA, but part of various ones around the world.”

Tshifhiwa Tshivengwa, CEO at Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), also pointed out that it is not a South African “variant”.

“It is just a variant which our scientists sequenced here. It does not help us locally or internationally to call it a South African variant,” he said during the briefing.

Seven strategic interventions

The recovery plan is a response to challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has devastated the sector. It follows consultations between the public and private sector and outlines interventions for the recovery, transformation and long-term sustainability of tourism.

The total income of the food and beverages industry from January 2020 to December 2020 decreased by -40.5% compared to January 2019 to December 2019. Measured at current prices, total income for the tourist accommodation industry decreased by -72.7% in February 2021 compared to February 2020. 

The plan proposes seven strategic interventions, which include stimulating domestic demand; launching investment and resource mobilisation programmes; and creating regional tourism integration. The objective is to preserve jobs and livelihoods, and even create new job opportunities. 

The plan also aims to strengthen transformation in the sector, including the empowerment of women, youth and people with disabilities. 

Regional integration is an important value approach when marketing and packaging SA’s tourism offering, the minister highlighted.

“People do not want to [travel a] long distance and risk Covid-19 only to see one thing. We must also say they can visit places like Victoria Falls. There is also the idea of ‘road-to-ocean’ options,” she said.

E-visas an important enabler

An important enabler for tourism recovery, in her view, will be the rollout of e-visas. In addition, safety and security of tourists remain key. The vaccine rollout in the country also remains an important factor.

The minister would especially like to see key markets like China, India and Nigeria be on e-visas as they have the potential for large visitor numbers to SA.

“We do not want to do everything from our side and then tourists still come here and complain about safety,” she said.

She would also like to encourage government to start travelling and hosting conferences and meetings again as this would boost tourism income. Limitations on gatherings has brought the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions segment of the tourism industry to a halt.

The recovery plan foresees that the demand for unique, sustainable and exclusive experiences will rise. Travellers also want the flexibility to change dates or destinations. The demand for open spaces or rural holidays and outdoor activities is expected to rise to avoid congestion. Technology will be at the forefront of addressing consumer needs, for example for ease of passenger processing at ports of entry.

“Deal-driven” encouraging of domestic tourism forms an important part of the plan. It also proposes that the adoption of a Covid-19 safe travel passport could be an enabler for reigniting the sector. 

Although the Department of Tourism and SA Tourism will play a leading role in coordinating the implementation of the plan, partnership between the public and private sector is seen as a necessary ingredient for successful implementation, the minister said. 

“The participation of all social partners in the planning and implementation of all the actions is critical – including the labour sector. There will also be monitoring and evaluation on implementation and quarterly reports.”

The intention is for the plan to result in, among other things, greater diversification of the supply side of the tourism market, increased infrastructure investments in the sector, protection and creation of jobs, a recovered sector, an improved South African brand, and turning domestic tourism into an anchor, while increasing international arrivals.

“It is very important that everybody understands what we want to achieve and to contribute to the tourism space,” the minister concluded.

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