Feature: S. Africa's tourism hard hit by COVID-19



File photo taken on Oct. 15, 2014 shows people walking past Jacaranda trees in Pretoria, South Africa. (Xinhua/Zhai Jianlan)

The COVID-19 pandemic has been ravaging South Africa since March 5, with the tourism sector being the hardest hit. About 600,000 direct tourism jobs could be lost in 2020 due to COVID-19.

by Grant Alexander

CAPE TOWN, July 26 (Xinhua) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has been ravaging South Africa since March 5, with the tourism sector being the hardest hit.

For several days, the tourism industry has organized protests in major cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg to press their demand for fully reopening the tourism industry. In Cape Town, hundreds of protesters gathered outside Parliament on Friday.

The COVID-19 lockdown, enforced since March 27, has forced the closure of many small businesses in the tourism sector.

Tourism income for the tourist accommodation industry decreased by 98 percent in May of 2020, compared with May of 2019, according to the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA).

The council revealed that more than 68 billion rand (about 4 billion U.S. dollars) in tourism has been lost due to the national lockdown.

Moreover, about 600,000 direct tourism jobs will be lost in 2020 due to COVID-19, the council said.

New scenario models by the World Travel Tourism Council indicate up to 197 million job losses if the industry is only widely opened again by September.

The South African government foresees that domestic leisure tourism will likely only be able to resume in December and international travel next year.

In April, South African Minister of Tourism Mmamaloko Kubayi-Ngubane announced a COVID-19 tourism relief fund of 200 million rand, but little of that money reportedly has reached its recipients.

This was one of the reasons that were believed to be behind the protests.

If the sector remains closed, the knock-on effects will be felt in other sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, and banking, according to the TBCSA.

"If the government does not open inter-provincial leisure travel this week, mass retrenchments will start within the sector," Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of TBCSA, said.

A medical staff member wearing protective suit is seen at a quarantine and isolation center in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 3, 2020.(Xinhua/Yeshiel)

This will be further propelled by benefit of the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme coming to an end and insurance companies refusing to pay legitimate claims, Tshivhengwa said.

Inter-provincial travel will bring hope to the industry and mitigate mass retrenchments, he said.

David Frost, Chief Executive Officer of Southern Africa Tourism Services, told Xinhua that they would rather engage with the government than taking them to court.

David Raad, owner of Cafe Caprice in Cape Town, said he supported the protests.

"We put tables out in the street just to show solidarity to the restaurants and hospitality sector that have been left out in the cold," Raad told Xinhua, adding that "we've been harshly hit with the lockdown."

The hospitality industry is battling with the ban on alcohol sale and an evening curfew, said Raad.

Athol Williams, who runs the MD Star Travel (South Africa) based in Cape Town, said the pandemic has seriously damaged his company, grinding the business to a complete halt.

"I am tourism-dependent, that is my bread and butter ... All my money, everything is gone. I've got nothing, no bread on the table; I am sitting at home doing no work," Williams told Xinhua.

Fredirich Bernard of Citi Walking Tours said that most of the people in the tourism industry have depleted their savings.

"We've turned over every resource we can, we've begged, borrowed and we are at the end of tether," he said.