‘SA needs a holiday’: Tourism industry welcomes Easter weekend visitors
While the nation awaits a government decision about Covid-19 regulations over Easter, many people have already booked flights and accommodation for the long weekend.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is due to announce on Tuesday evening what steps will be taken to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 when, traditionally, people travel and gather over Easter.
The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that the government was considering allowing larger outdoor and indoor events to accommodate religious gatherings. There is also speculation around tighter restrictions on the sale of alcohol.
Nevertheless, holiday destinations are prepared for an influx of tourists at the weekend.
Western Cape finance and economic opportunities MEC David Maynier said the province was expecting a pent up demand by travellers.
Maynier said since the relaunch of a “Kids Stay Free” campaign at the beginning of March, that had resulted in R11.4m committed in flight sales and 311 “Kids Stay Free” accommodation options booked across the region.
Top booking destinations made through the “Kids Stay Free” campaign included the Cape Peninsula, Overberg, west coast, whale coast and Cape winelands, with bookings made as far as the Cape Karoo, said Maynier.
“The tourism and hospitality industry has been hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and we encourage those who can afford to do so to head out over the long weekend and support businesses, especially small businesses in the Western Cape,” he said.
“Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have worked hard to ensure the tourism and hospitality industry is travel-ready in the Western Cape. We have engaged continuously with the tourism and hospitality sector to implement the necessary health guidelines to stop the spread of Covid-19 and have provided the tools and resources they need to do this.”
Maynier said people could submit a complaint if a business does not comply with health guidelines to stop the spread of Covid-19.
The government closed beaches along the Garden Route in December in a bid to slow the spread of the virus. Holiday cancellations took a heavy financial toll across popular coastal destinations.
Colleen Durant, CEO of Knysna Tourism, said things were looking positive ahead of Easter.
“We have been advertising towards Easter weekend and we will continue to advertise. South Africans need and want a holiday. We have a lot of holiday homes here and we are sure they will be occupied. We are ready and we are open.”
KwaZulu-Natal economic development and tourism MEC Ravi Pillay said the province had bucked the trend of dismal bookings in the wake of Covid-19 restrictions and was experiencing a resurgence of interest and visitors.
“We are looking forward to the Easter season and July winter season. I am happy with the figures. We’re expecting about 80% bookings and we think that will be the start of a revival,” he said.
Air travel on the rise
FlySafair spokesperson Kirby Gordon said flight bookings were picking up ahead of the Easter weekend, but the industry at large was still struggling.
“In February there were only about 35% of the seats on the market that we as an industry are capable of operating and that is up to between 65 and 70% now, which is great, but still not at a point where airlines can think of operating profitably,” he said.
“Put differently, Easter is making things look a bit better, but this Easter is only going to be about 70% of Easter 2019.”
Gordon said most bookings were for trips to the coast.
“Almost half of SA air traffic is between Johannesburg and Cape Town, with another substantial chunk dedicated to connecting those two cities to Durban. While the absolute numbers of people travelling to Port Elizabeth [Gqeberha], East London and George are smaller than those heading to Cape Town and Durban, the growth in passenger numbers on those routes are large.”
“Usually we see two sorts of trends - people heading from inland to the coast, and then a fair number of folks from the Western Cape going to the Eastern Cape,” he said.
There is untapped potential to grow domestic tourism in SA.Dr Unathi Sonwabile Henama, TUT
Dr Unathi Sonwabile Henama, tourism lecturer at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), said the Easter period was an opportunity for the tourism industry to accelerate recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown regulations had a detrimental impact on the economic prospects of the tourism industry.
“The tourism industry is highly seasonal in nature and the festive season is usually the high season, but 2020 was very different. The alcohol ban and the discovery of a South African variant further deteriorated the pain in the tourism industry.
“Tourism operators have reported increased demand and bookings leading up to the Easter period. The majority of these bookings are dominated by domestic tourists. Domestic tourism in the past four years has been declining, reflecting the declining economic fortunes of the SA economy. There is untapped potential to grow domestic tourism in SA,” Henama said.