The easing of lockdown restrictions and the long-awaited removal from the UK’s “red list” is expected to breathe some desperately needed life into the country’s hospitality industry.
The industry, and tourism property owners, have taken a heavy blow over the past year and a half – some more than others – but these moves, in conjunction with improved vaccination levels and summer holidays around the corner, could spark some sort of revival.
Since March last year, says Rosemary Anderson, national chairperson of the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa, all accommodation providers, especially hotels, have taken a dramatic knock.
The extent of the damage has varied, depending on the type of accommodation offered and where it is located.
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“A good example would be in Sandton where half of our four and five-star hotels are still closed and those that are open are operating at just over 20% occupancy, which is not financially sustainable.”
This is opposite to the situation for many self-catering lodges in attractive locations in the country, which are now back to pre-Covid occupancy levels.
“Hotels in the city centres of Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg have generally been hardest hit,” Anderson says.
Self-catering establishments have done about 20% better than other accommodation types.
“This also links to the attraction of lodges in outlying areas where people feel they are safer not being in close contact in crowded environments – and they can do their own cooking/food preparation.
“They also need open space following being cooped up for so many months of lockdowns which included curfews, provincial restrictions and, for some, what felt like ‘house-arrest’.
“So, getting away to a country location, and not being cooped up with lots of other people, is what has been most attractive to others.”
With the UK – a major source of tourism to South Africa – taking us off their red list this week, there will be improvement for more tourism property sectors.
“Having visitors from this source market returning to our shores will have a dramatic and noticeable impact and will go a long way to help the sector’s recovery efforts...
“This is all coupled with going into summer, our vaccination programme being rolled out, Covid-19 cases down dramatically and international inbound travel hopefully going to resume shortly.”
Citing research published by the Bureau for Economic Research on September 27, Anderson says the tourism and hospitality sectors’ contribution to the country’s GDP shrank from 7.2% in 2018 to 2.9% last year, 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 the year before.”
Now, as the country and the world open up, there is “merit for optimism in the recovery” of these sectors.
Despite the travel crisis of 2020/21, visits to Airbnb properties contributed more than R8 billion to country’s economy and supported about 22 000 jobs, according to a report from independent consultancy Genesis Analytics commissioned by Airbnb.
Additional Airbnb research reveals that new hosts across South Africa who welcomed their first guests in the first six months of this year, and had just one listing, collectively made over R1.8bn hosting on Airbnb.
Half of new listings that were both activated and booked early this year got a reservation request within seven days with the average annual earnings per host who had welcomed at least one guest being R55 800, Airbnb states.
As the festive season approaches, the holiday rental market, especially along the coast, is expected to boom, say Seeff agents. While some international travel will be affected by continuing travel restrictions, South Africans are expected to flock to holiday destinations this summer.
Ross Levin, licensee for Seeff Atlantic Seaboard and City Bowl, says Cape Town will be a hot spot as the attractions are endless. Generally, Cape coastal areas will be a magnet for tourists, says Marina Enslin, an agent with Seeff Paternoster, for example, adding that weekends are well fully booked in the village as people look to escape from the cities.
Ciska de Vries, short-let rental agent for Seeff Hermanus, says they are already about 85% booked for December and January. Joleen Giraudeau, manager for Seeff South Coast in KZN, says while they have had loads of inquiries, booking confirmations are slow.
However, they expect this to pick up closer to December as people dream of getting away, especially if there is a fourth wave.
On the KZN north coast, Zimbali is the primary choice of destination, agents say.