Daily Dispatch

EC tourism eager to prepare for economic recovery

- BHONGO JACOB bhongoj@dispatch.co.za

Reopening the tourism industry will get the knee off the neck of tourism establishm­ents and save thousands of jobs, even though it may take a while to recover from the pounding of the national lockdown.

This is the collective feeling of a number of tourism roleplayer­s in the Eastern Cape. They were reacting to an announceme­nt by tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane that the sector could soon reopen, depending on SA’s Covid19 containmen­t.

Kubayi-Ngubane said the government was working on developing a health and safety protocol plan before reopening the industry. She announced the opening of intra-provincial travel, which is expected to boost local businesses, a few weeks ago and said SA may well reopen for travel more widely between August and May, depending on how Covid-19 spreads in the coming months.

Self-drive visits to private and public game reserves and national parks were among the activities government allowed under the current level 3 of the lockdown.

Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency CEO Vuyani Dayimani said recovery in the sector was expected in the coming months.

Dayimani said: “Extension of the curfew for restaurant­s and opening up of intra-provincial leisure travel brings much needed breathing room for the sector.”

The industry contribute­d 18% to the provincial GDP and created 1,000 jobs in 2018, he said.

“Tourism is a vital part of the provincial economy and has been identified as a critical sector to trigger the economic recovery.”

Premier Oscar Mabuyane welcomed the plans, saying the first point of recovery for the province was supporting domestic tourism.

“We do not want to see the reversal of this decision, but if the sector does not play by the rules rest assured we will be the first ones to call for reversal of the decision,” Mabuyane warned.

Amanda Weerdenbur­g, chair of the Port St Johns Tourism Forum and owner of a backpacker­s’ lodge, said the provincial tourism economy had been badly hit by Covid19 and the measures introduced to contain its spread.

“Though it’s a relief that the restrictio­ns are partially lifted, businesses are struggling to open and operate at full functional­ity.

“Due to the financial strains, businesses are operating with skeletal staff and minimal services. Job losses are expected to be high.”

Women in Tourism’s Eastern Cape chair, Lizille Maurice, said intra-provincial travel would boost smaller businesses.

“People will be scared to go to the bigger, more crowded facilities. Small businesses must just stay on top of their game.”

Tour guide Velile Ndlumbini agreed, saying attractive and yet affordable packages should be offered to locals.

However another tour guide, Siseko Yelani, feared domestic tourism would not recover any time soon as so many people in the Eastern Cape were already overstretc­hed.

“SA tourism is heavily dependent on the internatio­nal market. Many South Africans do not have disposable income to afford trips and tours about the province.

“Only a few can afford a weekend away, and they might book in directly to accommodat­ion establishm­ents and use their own transport without using the services of tour guides and transport operators.”

Tourism is a vital part of the provincial economy and has been identified as a critical sector to trigger the economic recovery

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