By Gugu Sithole
The Coronavirus also known as COVID-19 is now in our shores and reality is hitting home. President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a State of Disaster and with it came a raft of measures to flatten the spread of the virus and ultimately combat the scourge.
However, history shows that such a global phenomenon takes time to be completely eradicated. Leading scientific researchers project that the vaccine for COVID-19 might take up to a year. This is a long time in a world that is largely reliant on multilateral trade.
The global economy has taken a knock and bearish markets seem to be trend. Major security exchanges have in recent weeks recorded unprecedented losses. This has a major impact on country economies. The timing could not have been worse for South Africa following two consecutive quarters of negative growth.
The tourism industry is taking a battering too. With several countries instituting travel restrictions, airlines have cuts major routes, hotel rooms are increasingly becoming empty and tour guides are in limbo.
According to Statistics South Africa, top ten countries that brought tourism flow include the United States of America, United Kingdom, Germany, India, France, China, Canada, Australia, The Netherlands and Brazil. The impending loss of tourism traffic from these countries due to COVID-19 cannot be taken lightly.
To put this into perspective, non-resident visitors spent a total of R120 billion within the borders of South Africa in 2018. This is according to data from the Tourism Satellite Account for South Africa (TSA) report. South Africa had a positive tourism trade balance of R36 billion in 2018. What this means is that non-resident visitors spend more money in our country than South African travellers spend abroad.
The recent gain of the tourism sector would be negated due to the COVID – 19 pandemic. In the last quarter of 2019, the sector created 6 646 new jobs. According to the Tourism Performance Report, the sector employed 740 826 by the end of 2019. This is set to change until the global economy stabilizes and takes off from the COVID – 19 effects. Such global macro economic cycles take time.
While COVID-19 has put us on the retreat mode, it is time we come up with a new way of doing tourism to stay afloat in such tough times. Perhaps this is the best time to pursue what we have been advocating at Glamping Adventures as collaborative tourism. This kind of synergy is borne out of the belief that we are collaborators and not competitors. Inbound tourism operators can work with local travel players to stimulate the local market.
Local travel presents a great, untapped potential. The wave of local travelling is already in motion. The Department of Tourism, reported that the tourism sector contributed R136,1 billion which is about 2.9% contribution to the total 2017 gross domestic product (GDP). The broad value chain impact of tourism induced benefits totalled R412,5 billion or 8.9% of the GDP.
Travelling in the SADC region has been on the increase, so as innovative ways to boost tourism. According to ‘Travel and Tourism Competitiveness’ report 2017, the World Economic Forum said Southern Africa leads in attracting international tourists. Over the years, there has been a surge in local and regional travelling.
According to (StasSA), Botswana had the biggest increase of travellers visiting South Africa with an increase of 15%, 51 668 visitors in 2019. This is an encouraging statistic. We have realized this in our roving glamping adventures that interest exists from neighbouring Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho. This might be the best time for collective marketing campaigns targeting these markets.
Strategic Perspective and Technology
The present challenges posed by the COVID-19 phenomenon call for out-of-the-box thinking, a collective exercise. Utilising the Fourth Industrial revolution (4IR) to leverage tourism in the country. 4IR can be the answer to what we lose in physical traffic. We can merge the arts and technology into powerful narratives that can be consumed from anywhere in the world.
We have seen virtual reality tourism thriving elsewhere. Once scaled up, with immersive virtual and augmented tours of our attractions and culture, this could be a great opportunity for revenue. As often said, tourism is as much a physical adventure as it is a consumption experience. In these times of limited physical travel, we can sell tourism products as consumed experiences.
In his address to delegates at the 2019 Africa’s Travel Indaba, President Cyril Ramaphosa referred to tourism as the new gold. It is collaborative tourism that will keep the sector afloat.
Gugu Sithole is a travel expert and director of Glamping Adventures, a bespoke glamping company that hosts roving events in major tourist attractions around South Africa.