Tourism activities likely to be grounded until December: minister

29 April 2020 - 22:01 By STHEMBILE CELE
Tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane spoke in a webinar hosted by South African Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona on Wednesday afternoon.
Tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane spoke in a webinar hosted by South African Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona on Wednesday afternoon.

Tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane says all activities in the sector are likely to be grounded until the first week of December.

She also said finance minister Tito Mboweni has apologised for a comment he made in a press briefing where he said that “tourism is dead” — and clarified what he meant.

The minister was speaking in a webinar hosted by South African Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona on Wednesday afternoon. The webinar was joined by hundreds of people involved in the sector.

She said the current impact of the pandemic on the tourism sector is still unknown.

“We are guided by the presentation that was done publicly ... by Prof Karim [Salim Abdool Karim, chair of the government's advisory panel]. If you look at that you will see that they said the peak will be almost around September. When we say the peak, it means that restrictions will still be in place,” said Kubayi-Ngubane.

“If you look at the numbers of new cases, you see that we are not going down but we are going up.

“So for me, when I look at that, I see us at least optimistically saying that by at least [the] first week of December being able to operate in the true sense of it,” she said.

With the country likely to implement coronavirus level 4 on Friday — which will see the systematic easing of some regulations to allow for some economic activity — the minister said one of the options they would be exploring was the possibility of “district isolation” to bring some life to tourism.

Because of the nature of tourism, it is likely to be one of the last sectors to be welcomed back into the economy, given travel restrictions and the need for social distancing.

“Our issue is ... are we able to start working towards district isolation to ensure that we can make sure that those who are unaffected can actively participate and have their full operation? For example, if there are no cases in Northern Cape, can we push for activities in tourism to go fully operational within the Northern Cape?” she said.

“The epicentre is a problem for us — Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban — and in the main, that is your market. It is people who will have the money to come and spend. So that is what we need to dissect and be able to bring through in terms of us getting some activity.”

Responding to concerns around comments by Mboweni, Kubayi-Ngubane said it was a reference to activity in the sector.

“I understand that one of the things he said was 'tourism is dead'. Immediately when I got that message I called him and said you can’t say that tourism is dead. We are going through a difficult time, but I do believe that we are going to bounce back.

“He did acknowledge to say that is not what he meant. What he meant — and I think it is important for me to explain — is that most of our programmes in the tourism department are going to have to be reprioritised. The budget — because it is not going to be spent immediately — is going to be reprioritised ... [It's] not that tourism is dead.

“He literally apologised for that.”

Kubayi-Ngubane also revealed that the local airline industry had indicated through various engagements that they would be out of fuel by the end of July.

“Many of them gave us projections to say that they are likely to have challenges if they are not back in the skies by the end of July. So that is the main difficult issue. And from where we are sitting in terms of the pandemic, the fear is that it is likely to rise in the two months to come because of the winter season.”

The R200m tourism sector relief fund is yet to be allocated to businesses — despite more than 10,000 applications — following a court challenge by AfriForum and Solidarity which was heard on Tuesday.

The department is waiting to hear from the court whether it has erred in stipulating that only BBBEE-compliant businesses would be considered for financial relief.

Judgment is expected to be handed down by the end of the week.