Marc Wachsberger, managing director of the Capital Hotels and Apartments group, has written an open letter to president Cyril Ramaphosa calling for an end to all national lockdowns in South Africa so that the tourism sector can have operating certainty.
The Capital Hotels and Apartments group own several luxury properties across the country, including hotels in Menlyn and Zimbali.
With the country exiting its third wave of Covid-19 infections and the vaccination effort gaining momentum, Wachsberger said the government needs to reopen the economy fully.
“It’s time to encourage all businesses to open up fully and get back to work, just as we were before March 2020.
“For the sake of the economy, South Africa needs everyone back in the office, so that all the supply chains that support city centres, hospitality locations, and every other part of the economy can all get back to work, get back to earning their full income, and also get back to spending it.”
Wachsberger said that the only way the hospitality sector can return to employing 1.5 million people and contributing R450 billion to the country’s economy is if it has the certainty that the government will not change operating conditions overnight.
“With so many vaccination sites now available and demand for vaccines below supply availability, I believe that although it’s unlikely that we will prevent the fourth wave of infection, you need to commit to protecting livelihoods over the unvaccinated population who is not seeking your protection.
“We – and the whole hospitality industry – now need you to open up the economy and permanently remove restrictions and curfews – so that we can get people travelling, working and earning again.”
South Africa’s tourism sector is one of the industries that has been hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with lockdown leading to severe revenue losses.
A research note published by the Bureau for Economic Research (BER) on Monday (27 September) shows that the sector’s contribution to GDP shrank from 7.2% in 2018 to 2.9% in 2020, and the number of jobs supported by the industry declined by almost a million.
The group’s data shows that South Africa received 10.2 million international overnight visitors in 2019. In 2020, this dropped sharply to 3.2 million – almost 70% fewer than in 2019.
Similar declines were seen in local travel, and compared to 2019, day and overnight trips were down 54% and 40%, respectively in 2020. So far this year, day trips are still 43.1% below 2019 levels and overnight trips 25% down.
“Compared to July 2019, seasonally adjusted income from accommodation was still down 74% in July 2021. Income was 53% lower in July 2021 than in June 2021 due to stricter lockdown regulations and the unrest in KZN and Gauteng.”
The average occupancy in 2019 was 46.6%, with this dropping to just 16% in July 2021.
“If the decline in visitor ratios is applied to 2018 expenditure data, the most recent available), it translates into a loss of R164 billion in spending by domestic and inbound visitors in 2020).
“Based on tourism expenditure in 2020, the sector’s contribution to GDP shrank from 7.2% in 2018 to 2.9% in 2020, and the number of jobs supported by the industry declined from 1.6m to 640,000.”