‘All the rooms are empty’: KwaZulu-Natal tourism reels from Covid-19 effects
Scrapping of the annual African Tourism Indaba alone will see more than 10,000 visitors cancelling their bookings
Covid-19 is having a devastating effect on tourism establishments in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), leading to mass cancellations and job layoffs.
The first confirmed case of coronavirus in SA was picked up in KZN in a man in the Hilton area, who had just returned from an overseas visit in Italy. He was released from hospital on Wednesday.
Since then, three cases have been confirmed in the province — all men who had travelled to Italy — and 116 in the country.
Responding to Sunday's call by president Cyril Ramaphosa to stop gatherings of more than 100 people, tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane announced on Monday that the annual Africa Tourism Indaba, which was scheduled to take place from May 12-15 in Durban, had been postponed indefinitely.
Ramaphosa also announced a raft of measures aimed at curbing the virus, including a visa ban for visitors from hard-hit countries such as China, France, the US, UK, Italy, Spain South Korea and Germany.
More than 10,000 local and international tourists visit the meeting, the largest tourism marketing event on the African calendar where exhibitors showcase a variety of Africa's tourism products. It attracts international buyers and media from across the world.
KZN tourism contributes 9.5% of the provincial GDP. The sector is also responsible for more than 24,000 direct jobs and many more informal ones.
Charles Preece, the east coast head of the Federation for Hospitality Association of SA (Fedhasa), said the hotel and restaurant industry in the province was bleeding because of the virus. He said cancellations and low room occupancy were the order of the day.
“I don’t have the figures yet but all our members are reporting massive cancellations. We have never seen something like this before and we are bracing ourselves for worst.
“Our members say they have no choice but to lay off workers because there is no business that can go on normally in such situations,” Preece said.
Mavis Nkabinde, a front desk manager at luxury accommodation Jozini Tiger Lodge and Spa said only handful of rooms were filled.
“By this time of the year up to Easter we are normally fully booked. But now all the rooms are empty because many of our overseas guests have cancelled,” she said.
She said casual staff has already been told to stop working until further notice.
The KZN bed and breakfast (B&B) Association says all its members throughout the province are reporting huge losses due to cancellations.
The KZN South Coast is also feeling the crunch.
Ivan Pillay owns two B&Bs located in Margate and Port Shepstone. “I have been told that a group of 10 people who were supposed to be here this week have just cancelled.
“This is happening despite buying all the latest sanitising equipment just to ensure that our guests are safe in our facilities,” Pillay said.
Jabulani Zama, the owner of Eyadini Lounge, an Umlazi township restaurant frequented by local celebrities and international tourists, said he was worried about the overall effect of the virus on business.
“People are scared. We have had events every weekend but companies that hosts these events have stopped, saying they couldn’t continue in the midst of the virus.”
The DA in KZN said the government should take proactive steps to prevent a jobs bloodbath in the tourism sector.
Heinz de Boer, KZN DA spokesperson on tourism, said his party was “extremely concerned that the virus could be the final straw for many self-employed tourism operators and could lead to extensive unemployment and job loses in the tourism sector.”
“The MEC and her department have a critical role to play moving forward. Ultimately, they will have to work closely with the tourism sector and municipalities in a concerted government-led initiative to save jobs,” he said.
On Tuesday, KZN tourism MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube said the government was doing something to mitigate the effects.
“KZN tourism authorities are currently assessing all tourism establishments across the province and analysing the impact following the outbreak of coronavirus,” she said.
“We are also in touch with our ambassadors in various countries where there is an outbreak. We have indicated that there is a strict health protocol that has been developed. We appreciate the co-operation from the international community and all the people of KwaZulu-Natal and the whole country,” she said.