Picture: Amy Dawson
Picture: Amy Dawson

The tourism industry, which contributes nearly 9% to SA's economy, is appealing to the government to begin the phased in easing of restrictions on travel and tourism at the earliest from September.

It also believes a fixed date for opening up to international travel is critical to allow tourists to make forward bookings and for the industry to develop travel packages. Failing this, tourists would find alternative destinations, which could result in a permanent loss for SA.

The industry is pushing for the easing of restrictions for the peak inbound season between September and February.

These pleas were made by board members of the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA) which represents a number of industry associations at a meeting of parliament’s tourism portfolio committee on Tuesday.

But MPs pointed out that it would be difficult for the government give a fixed date for the opening up the sector before the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic had been reached, estimated to be in September.

TBCSA chair and the deputy CEO of the Tourvest group, Blacky Komani, said the association had recently met President Cyril Ramaphosa and a number of ministers in a bid to get the industry back on track as soon as possible to preserve jobs.

Under level 3 of the Covid-19 lockdown regulations, limited domestic travel for business purposes is permitted. Limited domestic air travel means that flights are only allowed to depart and land at selected airports in a phased manner.

Komani said the industry had developed safety and hygiene protocols to prevent the spread of the infection once the sector opened up.

TBCSA board member Glenton de Kock informed MPs of a TBCSA survey that was conducted in mid-May, which indicated that if domestic leisure and corporate travel were allowed from September 1, regional travel from December 1 and the full opening of all international borders as from March 1 2021, the industry would be expected to achieve 18% of its annual turnover; would potentially consider laying off 37% or retrenching 23% of its employees; and 46% of businesses would still be partially closed or totally closed in February 2021.

If only 18% of annual turnover were achieved, industry spend would decline to R49.1bn from the 2018 level of R273.2bn and more than 600,000 direct jobs and 1.23-million total jobs would be lost of the estimated total of 1.5-million industry jobs. The industry’s contribution to GDP would also decline from its normal 8.6% to 1.55%.

Already about 50,000 tourism businesses have closed permanently or temporarily and there is the danger that 555,000-600,000 direct jobs could be lost in 2020.

TBCSA board members pointed out that European and many of SA’s key markets countries were beginning to open up for both inbound and outbound travel.

TBCSA also requested that the temporary employers/employees relief scheme (Ters) be extended to end-December and not be limited to the three months envisaged by the government.

The association also wants the government to increase the amount in the R200m tourism relief fund for SMMEs and to lower the R300m threshold for companies to qualify for assistance under the loan guarantee scheme.

It is calling for an acceleration of the introduction of the e-visa regime, for there to be more visa waivers for low-risk countries, and for temporary visa waivers for countries that were key for the local tourism industry.

The industry has been working with the government on the provision of accommodation for isolation and quarantining of those infected with Covid-19, as well as for essential workers.