Africa Travel Week

South African tourism and COVID-19

We have no idea what normal will look like. Various versions of lockdown will be our reality until a vaccine for COVID-19 is found. Welcome to 2020 the year that everything changed for Di Brown.

The reality dawns slowly. 21 days of lockdown have been extended into various stages. We have now realised that even when we enter a new level, there is no return to normal.

There are so many questions we can’t answer yet.

  • How many airlines will survive the pandemic?
  • What will international flights cost?
  • When will South Africa reopen its borders to key source markets? 

The tourism industry in South Africa is worth more than gold, and employs close to 1.5 million people. We must find ways to get it back up and running, albeit differently.

The domestic tourist should be new target market for every tourism business

When lockdown is over there will not be plane loads of visitors landing at our airports, and no sane person is keen to board a cruise ship anytime soon.

Tourism will restart with locals. When, lockdown is over, people will be cautious. Domestic air travel will take time, but day trips, experiences, or a few days away, accessible by car, will be appealing.

We want to get together with family and friends again

We crave time in nature, wide open spaces, and a change of scenery, but we want to feel safe.

All visitor attractions and those in the hospitality industry need to adapt to meet the needs of the new domestic tourist.

 Safety first, ease of access and value for money. Money earned in South African Rands, not euros, dollars or yen.

Access control, temperature checks, social distancing, ample hand washing and sanitizer opportunities and contact free transactions will be the new criteria on which clients will base their decisions.

It is not an ideal scenario for any business, but some paying guests are better than none.

It is time to do the math’s and find your magic number, how many visitors do you need to make re opening viable? Use this number to reverse engineer how you will do business going forward.

Get creative and look at your tourism offering with new eyes. What might have been a drawback could now be you main selling point.

What will visitors want?

As a travel writer I get around a lot, but after lockdown, what would appeal to me?

Small towns, remote locations, bush breaks and nature activities are high on my list. A restaurant that offers take aways, a picnic basket or well-spaced seating with ample ventilation. Staff in masks, temperature check and hand sanitizing on entering, and contact free transactions.

I am wary of flying for now, but a road trip would be great.

 A visit to a cultural experience, beer, wine or gin tasting where social distancing is easy and well controlled and perhaps information is done via an audio guide app on my phone, allowing me to maintain a distance I am comfortable with.

I want to feel that any place I visit or stay at is taking my safety, and the safety of their staff seriously.

What does excite me is the opportunity to rediscover South Africa. To revisit places I love, and experience others that have been on my “must see” list for years.

We can start by experiencing our immediate neighbourhoods and being tourists in our own cities and areas. We can spend our precious Rands on local small businesses and make a difference. As we get braver, we have nine glorious provinces to discover and enjoy.

The South Africa that went into lockdown will not be the same South Africa that emerges from it. We have been given an opportunity to reset normal. By supporting our tourism industry, we create jobs. Jobs bring hope and promise a better future. It is in our hands to make sure that the new South Africa is a better one for every single citizen.

Di Brown

Di Brown is a freelance travel writer based in Cape Town. Part of the tourism industry for the last 20 years, Di is a supporter of responsible tourism, advocates for animal rights in tourism and is a keen amateur photographer. Although she loves eating, she is definitely not a foodie, barely cooks and is happiest being busy, preferably out in nature. Gorilla trekking in Uganda, Ziplining all over the country, surf lessons in Jeffries Bay, cheetah tracking on various reserves, walking safaris, swimming in the Devils Pool at Vic Falls, helicopter flips around Reunion Island and an arduous climb to the top of the sand dunes in Walvis Bay are some of her highlights.