Industry leaders believe domestic tourism will be the focus for the South African tourism industry – both inbound and outbound suppliers – in the short-to-medium-term in a post-COVID-19 future.
South African Tourism hosted the first of three webinars today (April 9) with a panel of industry leaders – CEO of Classic Portfolios, Suzanne Bayly-Coupe; CEO of African Travel and Tourism Association (UK), Chris Mears; CEO of FlySafair, Elmar Conradie and COO of Sun International, Graham Wood – as part of its ongoing engagement with industry on forging a solid tourism recovery plan.
Most of the panellists said domestic tourism was likely to pick up more quickly than international tourism in the post-coronavirus future. But it won’t be without some challenges.
“We know that the domestic market will recover the fastest but a lot of our industry has been geared toward the international market and it is relatively expensive for most South Africans,” explained Bayly-Coupe. “This is the time to grow a sense of pride of travelling in our own country. Dropping prices will help but we need to be more dynamic and responsive in how we market our country to its citizens.”
Wood expressed the same sentiments, highlighting, however, that a further slump in the economy could put a damper on even domestic tourism.
“We need to be cautious about pinning all our hope on domestic tourism. Salaries have taken a knock as companies scale back,” he said. “Let’s be responsible in how we target domestic tourism from a pricing and value perspective.”
Wood added that the industry also hadn’t been able to solve the geographic spread as tourism was still largely centred on three or four key destinations. “The regional cost of air travel needs to be looked at for domestic tourism to flourish.”
Many travel and tourism organisations across the world have campaigned for postponements instead of cancellations. Bayly-Coupe said, although Classic Portfolios had been fortunate to have most of its business move to postponement, she still felt anxious about the future.
“We were initially excited about postponements, rather than outright cancellations, but realised that while it makes 2021 look good, it wipes out the whole of 2020.
“I feel anxious about the number of postponements because this can create a false sense of hope of business for the future. Not all these postponements will materialise.”
One thing remains certain is that the tourism industry is united in ensuring that all parts of the sector survive the impact of the pandemic. “If one part of the sector doesn’t survive this, whether it is aviation or hospitality, there will be a systemic implosion,” said Conradie.
“It won’t be about recovery to where the industry was before the lockdown; it will be starting from scratch, which will take longer. We need to ensure all participants survive this for the recovery to work.”