'We will continue to shed jobs': How lockdown ravaged SA's tourism industry

Tourism council says poor visitor statistics in December were expected

24 February 2021 - 16:03 By ernest mabuza
Holiday town Jeffreys Bay was subject to Covid-19 beach closures during the festive season. The Tourism Business Council of SA says reports by Statistics SA showing a decline in tourist numbers and the loss in income for the tourist accommodation industry comes as no surprise.
Holiday town Jeffreys Bay was subject to Covid-19 beach closures during the festive season. The Tourism Business Council of SA says reports by Statistics SA showing a decline in tourist numbers and the loss in income for the tourist accommodation industry comes as no surprise.
Image: FREDLIN ADRIAAN

The devastation of the tourism industry during the Covid-19 lockdown over the festive season, when it had hoped to recoup early 2020 losses, has been laid bare in data released this week.

Reports released by Stats SA show a sharp decrease in the number of tourists visiting SA in December last year and a resultant loss of income for the tourist accommodation industry.

Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA) CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa said on Wednesday that these statistics, on tourist accommodation and tourism and migration for December 2020, were consistent with numbers industry members have encountered.

“We have seen that there is hardly any satisfactory tourism business. For us it is not a surprise at all. Things are not looking good. This is reflected in arrivals and accommodation,” Tshivhengwa said.

Stats SA's release on tourist accommodation for December 2020 showed that income for the tourist accommodation industry decreased by 57.7% in December 2020, compared with December 2019.

Another report by Stats SA on tourism and migration for December 2020 showed that foreign arrivals decreased by 82.1% (from 1.5 million arrivals in December 2019 to 279,539 in December 2020).

The report showed that while 163,335 tourists came from Europe in December 2019, only 26,880 arrived from the continent in December 2020.

While 772,945 visitors came from other African countries in December 2019, only 161,358 arrived in December last year. 

Tshivhengwa said the TBCSA made a presentation before the tourism portfolio committee this week on how bad the situation was and how it was deteriorating every day.

He said the restrictions put in place at the end of December, when President Cyril Ramaphosa placed the country on adjusted level 3 lockdown, did not help.

“January will reflect even worse numbers because of the closure of beaches and rivers and the ban on the sale of alcohol. We will continue to shed jobs.”

Tshivhengwa said the numbers reflected the situation the industry found itself in.

“Transport companies [aimed at ferrying] tourists are not operating, some guests houses have hardly anyone staying in them. People have cancelled vacations. We are not surprised.”

He said the situation was far worse because informal sector tourism businesses were not accounted for in the statistics released by Stats SA. These included people selling merchandise, such as arts and crafts, to tourists.

“The picture is bleaker than it is because of informal tourism traders. Women who are breadwinners and who make all these paraphernalia to sell, but there are no tourists to sell to.”

Tshivhengwa said there has to be management of how SA communicates to the world on what it has done about curbing the spread of Covid-19. He said there was a need for SA to manage the brand of the country so that foreign tourists still willing to travel could come to SA.

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