by Grant Alexander
South Africa’s tourism sector has seen a rebound since the country further eased COVID-19 lockdown restrictions last week.
The past few days have seen locals going to tourist destinations, including national parks, theme parks, amusement parks, water parks, family entertainment centers, zoos, aquariums, science centers, nature and game reserves.
The South African National Parks (SANParks) has reported a massive rush in bookings, causing its website to crash last week. Other travel agencies have also seen increased volume of hotel reservations.
On Aug. 18, South Africa eased COVID-19 lockdown restrictions from level three to level two, under which South Africans can move across provincial borders for all purposes, including leisure.
International tourism, however, is still prohibited.
The tourism sector was shut down completely since March 27 when the COVID-19 lockdown was enforced to curb the spread of the virus.
With the re-opening of tourism, the government expects to forge a new path toward recovery as many people in the sector return to work to provide for their families following months of hardship, Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said.
“We encourage South Africans to not only support the tourism sector to preserve the business and the jobs but also to enjoy their beautiful country after months of being in their homes,” Kubayi-Ngubane said while issuing directives for the re-opening of the tourism sector.
Income for the tourist accommodation industry fell 98 percent in May 2020 compared with same month last year, according to the Tourism Business Council of South Africa.
The tourism sector lost more than 68 billion rand (about 4 billion U.S. dollars) due to the national lockdown, the TBCSA said.
About 600,000 direct tourism jobs will be lost in 2020 due to COVID-19, the council said.
“We have been in full hibernation since March this year and now with level two in full effect we will be getting out, moving a bit more, maybe even starting tours again with locals,” Elsje Erasmus, co-founder of Cape Town-based tourism agency 7 Tour Director, told Xinhua.
Erasmus said she was very excited to have local tourists coming back to Cape Town where there was still so much going on. She expressed hope that international tourists would soon be allowed in.
Jeanneret Momberg, CEO of Visit Stellenbosch, the official Destination Marketing Organization of Stellenbosch, a picturesque town outside Cape Town, said the COVID-19 pandemic has heavily affected tourism.
“Everything had been dead quiet, but we are firmly on the road to recovery,” she said.
Momberg said her company has just launched a program called Stellenbosch Ready, which will give visitors the assurance that Stellenbosch is a safe and responsible tourist destination.
“We have amazing things planned for the coming season,” she said. “We are ready to welcome the visitors back.”
Crystal Hennink, sales ambassador at Dream Vacation Club, said the firm have had no income due to the closure of tourism as a result of the hard lockdown.
“With our re-opening on level two, all our resorts have re-opened and are at full function. This is our first week of operation and going forward we will continue to do our local travel and hopefully by the end of the year we will be doing international travel,” said Hennink.
The government says it is laying a foundation for a healthier, more resilient and competitive future for tourism.
“We are highly encouraged by the interest we are seeing from both domestic and international investors, looking for opportunities in the tourism sector,” Minister of Tourism Kubayi-Ngubane said.
This gives hope that the supply side of the tourism sector will not only recover, but has the potential to surpass where it was prior to the pandemic, she said. Enditem