JOHN COCKAYNE: Restarting the golf tourism machine
There are signs that the doors of golf tourism are starting to edge open gradually
Tourism is central to many economies and it is globally a big employer, a serious forex earner and is of vital importance in SA.
Within tourism golf is a valuable niche and we shall deal with the impact on this particular area soon. I should like to focus first on a big element within tourism — hotels.
I had been working on a golf tourism initiative with Tsogo Sun before the pandemic. One of those involved with the project is Robert Jasper, GM of the Sandton Sun, the Sandton Convention Centre and the Sandton Towers. I asked him what impact the lockdown had had on his operations and the Tsogo Sun group’s broader activities.
Robert Jasper (RJ): As you know, the golf courses are open for play for members, so the doors are starting to edge open generally. We are coming out of what has been an unprecedented period of hibernation. Certainly in all my years in this industry I have never seen anything remotely like it. It has been a period during which most of the hotels were closed with some left open for essential services and for the repatriation of international guests.
JC: You have just reopened the Sandton Sun’s accommodation to the public within the limited travel allowed. Is this going to be a scenario in which you incur almost 100% of the operational costs, vs a fraction of the normal returns you would expect?
RJ: Yes, but the upside to this is that we are restarting the machine, which needs to be done in anticipation of a more normal time to come. You mentioned in one of your columns that an economy could not be switched on like a light bulb. A business of our size has similar constraints, so we need to ease through this process in stages, so this is a good start.
JC: From a hotels’ perspective, what do you foresee as being the “new normal” and what might this be for the broader tourism activities in especially air travel which is such a big aspect for you?
RJ: We are very dependent on air travel, because of our dealings with the international markets and the Sadc region. A good barometer of progress will be as we start to see the airlines booking crew accommodation.
As for the new normal — who knows? There has been a lot of guesswork in dealing with this virus and we still do not really know where we stand with it. I think we shall need to learn to live with it, at least for the moment, so the hygiene protocols will be in place for some time to come.
JC: The financial impacts have been marked, with some golf resorts and courses forecasting budgets with up to 70% less revenues for the 2021/2022 financial period. That would really sharpen the whole need to do more with less. Will this be similar in your sector?
RJ: Indeed, and I anticipate that those with broader revenue bases will fare better. Just to go back to the “new normal”, this might see business travel on the move first, but we shall need to watch this given the increase in the use and popularity of online meetings that has taken off during the lockdown. However, vacation travel might be slower to get off the mark.