Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, the tourism industry has undergone various levels of restrictions, which for many establishments in the sector dealt a final blow to their business.
However, Sun International chief executive Anthony Leeming is optimistic about the future of the travel and hospitality sector, believing that the worst is now over.
Speaking as part of PSG’s Big Think series, Leeming said that tourism and travel is likely to see a rebound in the next year, with local businesses set to benefit.
“We believe that 2022 will be a good year for the sector. As South Africans, we have a rich history and beautiful geography to share with the world. We have done everything we can to prepare for business to pick up. When they return, we’ll be ready,” he said.
Having come through a complete shutdown, Leeming said that with the gradual lifting of restrictions, footfall to holiday destinations is increasing. However, he noted that prominent gamers are not necessarily spending as much time as they previously did at gambling venues, because of the curfew.
After lockdown, the popularity of weekend getaways for families has also been restored, with more domestic clients looking to spend time away from their homes but not necessarily being able to travel internationally yet, he said.
Sun City as a microcosm
Leeming said Sun International faced three major challenges when the pandemic hit:
- Reducing inefficiencies;
- Cutting costs;
- Prioritising guest experience under a very new and unconventional set of circumstances.
The strategies employed at Sun City, as a microcosm of the greater group, mirrored the same ‘back-to-basics’ approach, he said.
“Covid-19 really highlighted the need to compartmentalise – to maximise the effectiveness of onsite employees and to outsource work where it was more cost-effective and efficient to do so. The maintenance at Sun City, for example, was outsourced, allowing onsite employees to work on improving the guest experience.”
Leeming said that digital innovations also formed part of the recovery strategy for Sun City. He said that the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of IT systems were considered, and the necessary upgrades were implemented.
“We also designed an app that will serve as a way of disseminating information and developed a new booking engine to make online bookings quicker and easier, which we have just launched. Ultimately, we asked ourselves how we could serve our guests better, and we acted on those points.”
Leeming said that in hindsight, lockdown and the restriction levels that followed provided Sun International with a much-needed hiatus to focus on the finer details.
Some of these details included trimming excessive vegetation to allow more natural light to filter into rooms and improve views of the resorts and removing weeds and cleaning the pump rooms in the ubiquitous Valley of Waves at Sun City.
“When we prioritised all aspects of the guest experience, from check-in to the use of our amenities, we found that the changes made to ‘back-of-house’, affected ‘front-of-house’ and the small improvements became part of a bigger picture,” he said.