A draft proposal to change how public holidays work in South Africa has received backing from the country’s tourism industry, with businesses saying the change will also help bolster the economy.
First mooted by low-cost airline FlySafair, the proposal would see public holidays that fall in the middle of the week be moved to either a Friday or Monday. A day of observance would then serve to recognise the historical significance of these days should they fall on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.
The proposal has been tabled with the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) for review. If well-received by the body, FlySafair hopes this will begin the process of lobbying the Department of Tourism to introduce the amendment to parliament.
“Our intention is in no way to diminish the importance of these historical days,” said Elmar Conradie, chief executive of FlySafair. “Our aim would be to look at how the time off from work can be better used to benefit the tourism industry and encourage South Africans to travel again.”
Dream Hotels & Resorts, which owns 21 accommodation properties across the country, has backed the proposal before the TBCSA and said that the move would be a significant boon to the ailing tourism economy.
“It’s no secret that long weekends promote domestic travel. If the international travel bans have taught us anything, it’s the importance of nurturing this market to ensure the survival of our industry,” said Nick Dickson, Dream Hotels & Resorts chief executive.
“Aside from the boost it could give South Africa’s tourism sector, the concept of optimising long weekends not only reduces midweek disruptions but allows for extended time off without having to use up one’s leave days.”
He added that similar efforts of moving midweek public holidays to either Friday or Monday have already taken place in the USA, UK, Argentina and Japan. He said these case studies also form the basis of the proposal, which is now under review by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA).
“As an example, 1 May will still be observed as Workers Day, but the actual holiday will fall on a Friday or Monday. Our public holidays are largely centred around very significant historical events, so it’s crucial to give these days the reverence that they deserve.”
“Once TBCSA has approved the proposition, we hope to lobby the Department of Tourism to bring the motion before parliament,” he said.
Local accommodation booking site LekkeSlaap has also given its support to move, with the group noting that the change would benefit South Africa’s businesses at large and not just the tourism industry.
It expects the change to improve productivity by avoiding a split work week, with a public holiday consolidated into a weekend also resulting in notably more business in general.
“LekkeSlaap received 30% more accommodation bookings for Heritage Day 2021, when this public holiday fell on a Friday, compared to the bookings we received when the same public holiday fell on a Tuesday in 2019.
“While some travellers would consider using their annual leave to make the most of the public holiday, a long weekend urges even more people to book a getaway,” said the group’s Gerriline Fouché.
While this is a slight change for the government to make, it’s a big step forward for domestic travel and an excellent motivator for South Africans to continue taking advantage of the incredible domestic travel opportunities the sector has to offer, she said.