Africa Travel Week

Tourism: Seeing beyond COVID-19

In the face of imminent danger, the natural instinct to survive at all costs kicks in. Such is the global story of the COVID-19 pandemic as Gugu Sithole has discovered.

Governments are preoccupied with how this runaway epidemic can be contained. Individuals are obsessed with safety and survival. However, this collective focus on immediate relief could be the bane of sustainable development. 

Relief efforts are widespread to keep life going. Stimulus packages have been passed to keep businesses afloat. However, its all interim focused. The short-term approach might be the biggest miss on getting the economic levers in place and strengthening long-term economic performance. In its wake, COVID-19 might leave many economies reeling, long after the vaccine has been discovered.

The escalation of this impact will increase mass vulnerability. It’s a dual carriageway to mortality, either from the pandemic or hunger.


Arguably one of the first sectors to be affected by COVID-19, the tourism sector is set to be the last one out of the doldrums. The advent of the pandemic will change how we travel forever. In South Africa, tourism associations have come up with preliminary protocols that, if approved by the government, will see an early, phased opening of the sector. Despite this, the inflicted damage will linger for long.


If anything is to go by, the tourism sector is in for a long haul. According to a recent study by the Stellenbosch University’s Bureau for Economic Research (BER), over a million jobs are potentially at risk under both the best and worst case scenarios.

The study, Covid-19: The impact on the South African tourism industry, also postulates a loss of at least R171.4 billion in spending by both the domestic and international tourists.


The decline in the tourism sector, like other economic sectors is expected. This gives an opportunity for the government to think long term. I mention the government first as it is responsible for creating an enabling environment for business to thrive. Currently, there are mixed signals from the enabler.

The lack of a deliberate inclusive long term structural planning to cushion, sustain and strengthen the economy is worrying. With the current din of confusion and panic induced by the invisible enemy, it is imperative for the government to have a think tank that takes a few steps from the maze and analyse this with a strategic eye.


The tourism sector led by the Department of Tourism and South Africa Tourism have done considerably well in convening a series of dialogue webinars. A number of surveys have been done through provincial tourism agencies and tourism associations. However, there is a need for a post COVID-19 breakout group – one that sees beyond the current relief efforts. This group should be diverse, bringing insight beyond the Department’s own strategic plan recently tabled before Parliament.


With this strategic view in mind, it is crucial to constantly market brand South Africa. It is time we evolve out of the COVID-19 focused messaging to a post pandemic South Africa. It’s never too early to market the country as a brand. Source markets and the domestic travellers need to frequently see the country as a destination of choice. In marketing terms, there is no fatigue in consuming a good product.

Gugu Sithole

Gugu Sithole is a travel expert and director of Glamping Adventures (, a bespoke glamping company that hosts roving events in major tourist attractions around South Africa.