Where are tourism’s Titans, and why is the tail wagging the dog?

I am fortunate to have known some of the titans of South Africa’s tourism industry — Sol Kerzer of Southern Sun & Sun International, Hans Enderle of City Lodge, David Jack of the V&A Waterfont (who I worked with for 25 years) and many others.  I miss people like them in today’s tourism industry. 

Otto Stehlik, the founder of Protea Hotels

Otto Stehlik, the founder of Protea Hotels

But every winter, I think of Austrian-born Otto Stehlik who started Protea Hotels. He is the only person in tourism ever to receive a national award — the National Order of the Baobab in Silver for “his excellent contribution to economic and social development in South Africa” by Jacob Zuma for 2015.  Protea Hotels employed 15,000 people.

Fedhasa reported on his award at the time (click here):  “Stehlik said that even though it is a great honour to be recognised and awarded, he feels obligated to speak up about the current crisis in South African tourism. As responsible South Africans we should be naming and shaming institutions, corporations and individuals who have done damage to the industry and economy.

“Last year was not an easy year for tourism in this country. We have suffered self-inflicted pain through the Visa disaster caused by the Department of Home Affairs and via the ongoing South African Airways leadership debacle. It is time for corporate South Africa to stand up, speak up and be counted if we are to continue to build upon the unlimited potential our tourism industry offers for the advancement of each and every South African,” he said.

I met Otto for the first time in the mid-1980s. I wanted to interview him and he gladly agreed, but said he was very busy so would I mind meeting him on a Saturday morning. Protea Hotels had one hotel — the Heerengracht Hotel — and we met in his office above the hotel in the old Trust Bank building. During our discussion he said, “I don’t understand Capetonians!… They are always complaining about the weather! Sure we have some bad days, but then the clouds clear and we have Champagne Weather!” That lives with me forever!

My first dealings at Southern Sun were with Peter Venison in 1979 (when I helped them identify a site for what became the Cape Sun Hotel) who was followed by Peter Bacon (I’ve always laughed about their surnames) who took over as CEO from Sol when he left to start Sun International.  Peter gave me one of my best headlines:  “You never say no in a five star hotel.”  I had breakfast with Peter and Jules Schneid, the hotel’s project manager, during the Cape Sun’s dry run.  Jules asked the waitress for honey.  She looked at him blankly and said, “The menu says preserves, it doesn’t say honey.”  Peter called her across — I don’t think she knew who he was — and said very quietly, “I want you to remember one thing very, very clearly — In a five star hotel you never say no.  Now go and fetch some honey and tell the General Manager to come and see me now.”

When he retired, Peter did his “national service” as he called it.  He became chairman of Cape Town Routes Unlimited, the Western Cape’s destination marketing organisation.  He put in an enormous amount of very hard work to try to right what was a doomed government organisation.  (David Jack also did stints of “national service”, as chairman of the earlier Western Cape Tourism Board and the Cape Town Partnership — which saved Cape Town’s CBD.)

When I look at the response of the tourism industry’s response to the pandemic and government’s nonsensical lockdown regulations I despair!  I think to the time of the Pagad shootings at the V&A Waterfront in the mid-1990s and how Mandela asked for a meeting with Waterfront’s management “to make sure his responses were complementary to what the Waterfront was planning.”  Mandela went to the Waterfront’s offices for the meeting!  When I remarked about this when former tourism minister Derek Hanekom joined me for lunch at Boschendal a few years back, he replied, “The style of government was very different then…”  Yes, it was characterised by respect all around and there was integrity to deal with.

When our president (not the ANC president) announced the State of Disaster and the subsequent lockdown, there was national pride that het was showing leadership and taking decisive action.  As the regulations rolled out and cabinet members started speaking off the cuff, respect dwindled and died.  At his last public address, taking questions from the public in a live Zoom discussion, his national viewership was far less than the tourism industry webinars, and dwindled as the session progressed.  He became the emperor with no clothes.

I was critical of the visible leadership from tourism’s representative organisations in the first month.  I had held Sisa Ntshona, CEO of SA Tourism, in very high esteem after my interview with him two years ago.  it was weeks after Portugal’s epic and moving video about the nation shutting down that Sisa spoke on video.  I was aghast.  He was uncomfortable, preferring the teleprompter to the camera,  and clearly a man without a plan, popularising the word “unprecedented” far beyond anyone else.

It was only after the minister of tourism’s first disastrous Zoom address to the tourism industry, where she called for protocols to enable the industry to open, that things started to happen.  The industry should have been banging on her door weeks after the State of Disaster with its plans.

SATSA and Fedhasa did team up under the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA) to produce the protocols and presented them to Parliament’s Tourism Portfolio Committee.  What were they expecting?  Support for opening to international travel by September, when there are no signs that SA’s pandemic will be under control by then?  Will other countries be keen to allow its citizens to travel here while our disaster unfolds?  Testing and tracing was supposed to be a cornerstone of SA’s pandemic response, but SA has been less successful than other countries at obtaining test kits.  Spain, whose State of Alert preceded SA’s State of Disaster by 2 days, has tested nearly four times the number of people SA has.

The TBCSA presentation to the Portfolio Committee was a disaster.  TBCSA was told that they thought it was too soon to open tourism and that when it does open, they want a focus on the BRICS countries.  Good old ANC ideology (and the portfolio chair Supra Mahumapelo’s own agenda)!

Much has been made of the lack of government support for tourism and especially white-owned tourism businesses, and government’s goals of Radical Economic Transformation when tourism re-opens.  Government is dreaming.  Tourism is opening and government hasn’t shown any plan.  One thing government has demonstrated is its total inability to understand or run businesses… SAA, Eskom, SABC, Transnet, Prasa, Denel, etc. demonstrate that.  It doesn’t have the plan, the money or the competence to implement any Radical Economic Transformation.  Only existing businesses and determined new entrants to the industry can do that.

By the tourism minister’s own admission, government’s support for the tourism has been inadequate… because it has no money.  And her belated offering to tourist guides — R1500 a month for three months — was like handing out sweeties to keep children quiet.

In When will tourism in SA open again? I wrote about the need to start playing hardball and lawyering up.  When it became evident that insurance companies were refusing to pay tourism Business Interruption Claims, TBCSA’s solution was to ask the Minister of Finance to intervene.  Oh please!  That mentality must change!  The TBCSA should have taken a number of test cases to court on behalf of the companies, won, and paved the way for new demands to insurance companies.  That would have demonstrated leadership.  Now, two companies I know of have already won their court cases with resounding success, providing legal precedent.

I don’t agree with the TBCSA/SATSA/Fedhasa goals and strategies.  Opening international tourism in September is a goal with too many imponderables.  What state of chaos will SA be in then?  Will other countries open their borders to SA?  Opening domestic tourism to interprovincial travel now is equally questionable.  If the Eastern Cape unfolds into a total disaster, will we see a flood of sick people heading across the provincial border to Plettenberg Bay and Knysna in search of healthcare?  Will the  Gauteng sick head for home in Limpopo and Northwest, spreading the virus and sickness in provinces ill-equipped to cope?

I wrote about Tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane’s presentation two weeks ago on the conditions for opening tourism businesses in There ARE solutions to safeguard tourism & hospitality jobs! Government doesn’t care.  By every interpretation of the regulations since then, her comments during question time were found to be at odds with the law.  (You can see a video clip showing her comments at the link above.  Listen to the last question… it shook me when it was asked.  It was so completely different to all the other questions… was it a planted question?)

Since then, she has ignored media requests for a clarification.  On Friday night, the presidency posted the new regulations on its website and on social media… only to delete them on Saturday morning, saying they were an error.  First the relaxing of the cigarette ban and then the opening of leisure tourism… only a fool will ever trust Ramaphosa again!  Is Supra Mahumapelo setting the agenda?  Apparently, changes to the legislation will be published soon.

On Thursday, the Department of Tourism presented their plans to parliament.

The Department of Tourism's presentation to parliament last Thursday. There are no time lines.

The Department of Tourism’s presentation to parliament last Thursday. There are no time lines. Was this ever discussed with the tourism industry before it was presented to Parliament?  #BigFail

The TBCSA must up its gameplan and play hardball.  (As I said in my first Coronavirus post all those months ago… Hope is not a Strategy!)  We need to listen to Otto Stehlik now, more than ever before. The industry must lawyer up and prepare for a big fight.  TBCSA’s strategy cannot only follow a legal route, it needs to raise the public’s understanding of the importance of the industry by embarking on a huge voter education programme that isn’t about party politics and ideology.  Tourism needs to have the public on its side.

The ANC has demonstrated over and over again that it doesn’t have the first clue about the economy and business.  You can’t have the tail wagging the dog.

There ARE solutions to safeguard tourism & hospitality jobs! Government doesn’t care.

Isn’t it time for the tourism industry to start playing hardball with government?  Maybe it’s time for the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA) to start a campaign for employers in the industry to start educating their employees about why they are losing their jobs.  Jobs are being lost and more will be lost, because of the ANC’s financial mismanagement and incompetent government.

Even before the State of Disaster was announced, on 9 March 2020, Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said at the in her address to the Tourism Leadership Forum, “Sadly, this outbreak is happening at a time when our economy is not doing well and has not been doing well for the past few years.

“Simply put, ladies and gentlemen, we do not have the resources to offset the damage that our economy will suffer because of this crisis.”

She also chairs the cabinet’s economic cluster, which has given South Africa… junk status, a falling economy, rising unemployment and a 30% drop in overseas visitor arrivals in 2019.  Trillions of rands were stolen through State Capture and corruption; government policies are tanking the economy and driving unemployment; and the cupboard is bare.  That’s the result of 26 years of ANC government.  Can South Africa afford more of this kind of leadership?

It’s time to start educating the voters.  According to a Presidency media release, the tourism and hospitality industry is the largest employer in the country.  And most of those jobs have been, are being and will be lost.  The TBCSA needs to start the biggest voter education campaign SA has ever seen.  Where every employee in the industry knows their jobs are under threat or lost because of ANC policies and actions. It’s not just Covid-19 — other countries have measures in place to support its citizens.  In South Africa, Covid-19 is being used to hide the ANC’s shortcomings.  A TBCSA campaign should not be about party politics but about good governance.  For years now, Government has been the biggest enemy of tourism in South Africa — the visa regime, corruption, public safety, dysfunctional SOEs, and more.

Government doesn’t have a clue about business, and doesn’t listen to those that do.  Government’s restrictions for opening the restaurant industry will cause restaurants to go deeper into debt.  Government is clueless.  The V&A Waterfront considered mothballing all restaurants until the end of the year as one solution, rather than incur greater losses.  But that means retaining and looking after staff.

Throughout Africa, the pandemic is whittling away at one of Africa’s signature achievements: the growing middle class.  For the last decade, the middle class has helped drive educational, political and economic development across the continent.  But because of the pandemic, many more people across Africa are at risk of being “knocked back into poverty,” said Razia Khan, the chief economist for Africa and the Middle East at Standard Chartered bank.

In South Africa, there are solutions but the ANC isn’t interested.  Minister Nkozama Dlamini-Zuma places more importance on her pet projects than practicality and pragmatism, and human lives.  She fails the rationality test.  (And has she ever refuted accusations that her family benefits from the illegal cigarette trade?)

Government is losing R35 million every day in lost tax revenues as a result of the ban on legal cigarette sales.  That’s  over R1 billion a month; R3.5 billion since the lockdown started.  (That’s apart from the income cigarette sellers earn.)  South Africa is the only country in the world implementing a ban on the sale of tobacco products.  Does South Africa know better than every other country on the planet?  Even Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni, broke ranks with his party and his cabinet colleagues to voice his disagreement with the tobacco ban.  Government is the benefactor and partner in crime to the illegal cigarette trade.

A billion rand a month will go some way in cushioning the hospitality and tourism industries and safeguarding jobs during the time of Covid-19.

Nothing demonstrates better just how clueless Ramaphosa’s cabinet is than the media briefing by the tourism minister last Friday, ten days after the president had announced that leisure tourism would be opening up, subject to protocols to be announced.  In this short clip from the 45 minute briefing, she answers questions about the opening up of tourism.

In the regulations published the night before her media briefing, they clearly state “A person may leave his or her place of residence to travel for leisure purposes as allowed under Alert Level 3.”

Government Gazette

The Government Gazette regulation trumps anything a minister says. Click here to download the Government Gazette.

The minister is clearly clueless and unfit to serve as a cabinet minister.  One can’t blame her alone because the folly of her appointment lies with President Ramaphosa.  She is a loyal ANC cadre with little to qualify her beyond that; she was initially appointed to the cabinet by Jacob Zuma to promote his ambitions for nuclear energy.

So… Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa (CEO of TBCSA)… do you and your board have the guts to be effective?  To lead a campaign which raises the understanding of tourism to its rightful place as the biggest generator of employment in South Africa, with the capacity to do far, far more.  Can you lead the lobbying organisation you need to be?

When will tourism in SA open again?

“It will not be business as usual in the tourism sector in the post-COVID-19 era,” he said, appealing to the TBCSA to tailor-make tour packages for SADC, Africa, and Brics countries.  “This will be one of the strategies boosting regional tourism and supporting the recovery and sustainability of the tourism sector in the foreseeable future.” — Supra Mahumapelo, chair of Parliament’s Tourism Portfolio Committee

Before we get to Mahumapelo’s statement, it’s important to realise that — under Level 3 of the Lockdown — tourism has already been opened with the addition of business travel to permitted activities.  And for many tourism businesses, the business tourist was what they relied upon most.  (Of course, under Level 4, there was some accommodation business through essential workers, isolation, etc.)

It is likely that business tourism will start slowly and will take a long time — years not months — before it ever gets close to what it was pre-Covid-19.  The Airports Company, in a presentation to parliament — said traffic is likely to still be down 20% on 2019 figures in 6 years time.  In the first two months of the State of Disaster, many companies realised how much they can do with video conferencing, and travel expenses will be looked at very carefully in a crisis economy.  (Government will probably be the biggest user of air travel… because it’s at taxpayers’ cost.)  I recall Johann Rupert saying about 10 years ago that he ran his global empire largely through video conferencing from home in Somerset West.

Saving one tourism business at a time

Covid-19 precautionsCapeInfo also took a very hard look at what we could do to help our clients, and we discovered that Self-catering accommodation is not specifically included in any government restrictions (although AirbBnB was and still is).  Self-catering properties account for over a third of CapeInfo’s 4,000 accommodation listings.  We wrote to all our clients over a month ago suggesting that self-catering properties should look for long-term guests for the next year.

Taking our cue from the Government directive that “Those above the age of 60 and those with underlying conditions should remain at home,” CapeInfo started to promote self-catering to that group.  A self-catering cottage on a farm or at the beachside will be a far better place to sit out the crisis than in a city which is the epicentre of a disaster. It addresses both mental and physical health.

Not everybody can afford this, but there are many who can and who can be contributing to saving the tourism infrastructure and livelihoods in other areas.  The next few months will be a very tough time.

CapeInfo’s home page addresses our Covid-19 responses and properties providing accommodation for business travellers or essential workers, isolation or long stays can identify themselves on CapeInfo as offering these services.  They are businesses whose full contact details are shown and all bookings are free of commissions..  While final bookings may go through an online booking engine, we believe that all arrangements should be made person-to-person through phone, email or chat applications.

Responses by the Tourism Industry

The minister of tourism provided scant leadership and divided the industry by the affirmative action requirements for the Tourism Relief Fund.  Her late response for Tourist Guides ended up offering them a payout of R1,500 per month for three months with no affirmative action requirements.  The SA Tourism webinar with the minister to talk to the industry was an embarrassment.  Up until that stage,  the industry had been floundering with nothing concrete to offer.  The minister did say, however, that it was up to the Tourism Business Council (TBCSA) to come up with proposals for an opening of the industry before the planned December 2020 for domestic tourism and February 2021 for international travel.

A week later, another webinar… this was Cape Town Tourism presenting their recovery strategy — and it probably way ahead of any other tourism marketing organisation in SA.  It was excellent!  (The Canary Islands recovery budget of 24 million euros (about R465 million)  was announced on March 3, ten days before Spain declared is State of Alert, to reactivate their main markets later in the year.  Now that’s proactive!)

The TBCSA, along with SATSA and Fedhasa eventually launched the COVID19 Protocols for Tourism Industry Operations. and presented its proposals to Parliament’s Tourism Portfolio Committee last week.  That’s where Supra Mahumapelo, the committee’s chairman was reported as saying, “It will not be business as usual in the tourism sector in the post-COVID-19 era,” he said, appealing to the TBCSA to tailor-make tour packages for SADC, Africa, and Brics countries.  “This will be one of the strategies boosting regional tourism and supporting the recovery and sustainability of the tourism sector in the foreseeable future.” Committee members said that it could be too soon to consider reopening tourism, as South Africa has yet to reach the peak in Covid-19 infections and flatten the curve, which experts estimate could happen around September.

David Maynier, Western Cape’s minister responsible for tourism, told CapeInfo that “The portfolio committee does not have a mandate to determine what source markets the provincial government can or should target for international tourism. We are working hard to open the tourism sector safely, and will continue to target existing markets, and explore new markets.”  Committee members said that it could be too soon to consider reopening tourism, as South Africa has yet to reach the peak in Covid-19 infections and flatten the curve, which experts estimate it could happen around September.

The ANC’s ideologies will ruin tourism, if they are ever implemented, in the same way that they have ruined scores of state owned enterprises.  That’s the only track record the ANC has.

I can’t understand why the TBCSA focused on international travel, when the priority is to open domestic travel and demonstrate what the industry can achieve.  Opening for international tourism is not a matter of just opening the borders — there will have to be reciprocal agreements between each country.  Germany, one of SA’s  key source markets, for example, has said that its borders will remain closed to any country where there is a lockdown still in force.  SA’s lockdown is expected to continue through into 2021  — although Level 1 of the lockdown allows international flights.

And the provinces are at very different stages of the pandemic and preparedness.

Alan Winde, the Western Cape’s premier, is — as far as I’m aware — the only SA politician who is coming through the disaster with a universally high approval rating.  And the province is months ahead of some other provinces.

Will government end the Western Cape’s lockdown before other provinces if its peak is reached sooner and Covid-19 cases are under control?

An important question that needs to be asked, is “Will government  end the Western Cape’s lockdown before the other provinces if its peak is reached sooner and once Covid-19 cases are under control?” The Western Cape’s Covid-19 peak is expected at the end of June and into July, four months before the Eastern Cape in October and November.

If I was the owner or CEO of a big tourism company, I’d bypass the junior bureaucrats at the tourism organisations and start layering up for a legal fight with government, the likes of which have never been seen before.  Tourism does seem to lack the trailblazing titans that I remember from 20 years ago.  (Companies that do have insurance for the losses they are incurring have been told that they are not covered, since losses are not a result of the pandemic, but by governments regulations.)

Government’s delivery is cause for concern

If government cannot deliver on the health infrastructure needed, and SA replays the scenes the world saw coming out of Italy, all hopes for opening international travel sooner will be dashed.  If the economic meltdown creates a social crisis, Brand South Africa will be in tatters.

  • Government estimates that SA will need between 25,000 and 35,000 ICU beds between August and September.
  • At the end of May, the health department said that there were currently only 2,309 critical care beds available for Covid-19 patients.
  • During the first two months of the lockdown, government only added 207 critical care beds. 

In a report by the Eastern Cape provincial government, they expect between 5 500 to 6 000 fatalities:  “Based on projections and the data supplied on 14 May 2020, it would appear that the E-Cape does not have enough capability in place to manage the demand of the pandemic. Unless capabilities are exponentially and rapidly increased, the province will experience a situation where the demand will exceed supply.

“It would appear based on the projections that demand will outstrip supply by early to mid-July 2020. It would appear from the data that the lockdown did not produce the required increase in capacity in the Eastern Cape to deal with the future demand.”  Really?  Do lockdowns produce an increase in capacity?

The cornerstone of SA’s Covid-19 programme was mass testing and screening, and tracing the infected people.  The health minister targeted 30,000 tests a day.  When delays of 14 days for the results occurred, the Western Cape abandoned mass testing because tracing became impossible.  Members of the Medical Advice Committee (MAC) had been calling for the strategy to be revised and they were ignored.

Just as the advice from members of the MAC to abandon the lockdown had been rejected a month before.

One has to wonder if all the irritating regulations coming out of the National Coronavirus Command Council are a smokescreen, to divert attention away from government’s shortcomings, failings and radical economic transformation agendas.  They have certainly taken government’s eye off the ball.  Opening the economy is as important as saving lives, because the loss of lives from a collapsed economy will be the ultimate disaster.

Is TAP Air Portugal the first airline to schedule regular flights to SA?

Is TAP Air Portugal the first airline to announce regular flights to South Africa?  On the home page of its website you will now see this image:

TAP launches Cape Town as a new destination from November 12, 2020

Is TAP the first airline to schedule regular flights into South Africa?

It announces Cape Town as a new destination with flights to Lisbon starting from R15,034 return.   The first flight from Cape Town departs on November 12, 2020.  You can book now at https://www.flytap.com/en-za/

And TAP is pet-friendly, you can take your dog in the cabin (or the hold) with you.

Tourism: Lessons for Government

Science isn’t cast in stone

The last lecture of my Bachelor of Science course at university was presented by our professor.  As Prof Engelbrecht finished, he looked at us all for a long time, and then said that this was the end of this stage of our studies.  “The most important advice I can give you now,” he continued, “is that 50% of what I’ve taught you is correct, and 50% is incorrect.  And that it’s up to you to discover which is which.”

Science is not infallible, nor is it all factual.  It’s how you interpret it and what you do with it that counts.  Being led by science can be a recipe for disaster.  Remember that next time someone from government uses science to justify their actions.

The tourism industry is a perishable industry

It was the late Don Titmas, when he opened the first fine dining restaurant at the Waterfront, who told me: “Tourism and hospitality are perishable industries.  You can never sell bodies into beds, bottoms onto restaurant or bus or plane seats after their sell by date.  If they are not sold for today, they are lost forever.”

And if you lose enough days, you lose your industry.

Thinking that it can be radically transformed after Covid-19 is naive and demonstrates a complete fantasy.  Tourism and hospitality are, in most cases, capital-intensive businesses to start.  And SA is now a poor country.  Tourism and hospitality require professionalism, passion and years of very hard work.

Tourism & Hospitality is the biggest & most competitive industry in the world

It’s also the biggest industry in the world, employing more people than anything else. It pays the salaries of shopkeepers and sales assistant in almost every kind of retail store, and every activity that supplies those stores.  Hospitality is found at the tens of thousands of shebeens, coffee shops, pubs and restaurants around the country, providing employment for hundreds of thousands of people.  People don’t travel to sleep in a strange bed, they travel for the experiences they can enjoy.

Oh yes, and of course there are the hotels, lodges, guest houses and B&Bs, the villas and cottages, the tour guides, car rental agencies, airports and airlines and all the companies that service and support them.

Tourism & hospitality provides local citizens with environments and services they would never otherwise have,  And tourism areas usually provide safer environments because, without that, there will be no tourism.

It requires world-beating professionalism, business acumen, vision, knowledge, competence and a passion for people.  There is no place for entitlement.  And it needs people in government who understand and can support this.

I was invited to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport in the late 1990s.  Someone who really impressed me was Mafika Mkwanazi, who went on to become chairman of Transnet in 2010.  At the time he was project manager for the refurbishment of the luxury Blue Trains.  He spoke about the problem of trains being stoned as they passed through railway stations, because they are a symbol of elitism.  One of the ANC committee members made the serious suggestion that if all South Africans were allowed to ride on the trains, the problem would be resolved…

In Buffalo City a few years back, I met with the head of tourism for the city to discover the city’s plans for tourism.  She was immediately on the defensive and said Buffalo City would be as popular as Cape Town if SA Tourism promoted them as much as Cape Town is promoted.  So I asked about their major events which drew visitors internationally.  “We are going to organise them,” was her reply.

“And your brand?” I asked, “No-one knows where Buffalo City is.  It doesn’t exist on any map,  There isn’t a Buffalo City post office or airport.”  Her reply? “We’re still going to change that.”  Buffalo City is still known as East London, except by politicians and bureaucrats…

So one shouldn’t be surprised  when Supra Mahumapelo, chair of Parliament’s Tourism Portfolio Committee, responded to the TBCSA’s presentation last week:  “It will not be business as usual in the tourism sector in the post-COVID-19 era,” he said, appealing to the TBCSA to tailor-make tour packages for SADC, Africa, and Brics countries.  “This will be one of the strategies boosting regional tourism and supporting the recovery and sustainability of the tourism sector in the foreseeable future,” said Mahumapelo.

He obviously doesn’t understand the finer details of source markets.  David Maynier, Western Cape provincial minister of tourism responded: “The portfolio committee does not have a mandate to determine what source markets the provincial government can or should target for international tourism. We are working hard to open the tourism sector safely, and will continue to target existing markets, and explore new markets.”

If SA had a competent national tourism minister and department of tourism, they would be educating their cadres, or at least ensure that professionals are appointed to tourism jobs.

In Business Day recently, Tamra Veley, MD of public affairs consultancy Corporate Image, made the call that a Resilient post-pandemic economy requires bolder business engagement.  It needs to be much, much bolder… and President Ramaphosa needs to up the competence on his cabinet.  Most people in government don’t know how bad they actually are.  Tourism is too important for ideological cadres.  Tourism needs the brightest and  the best.


A Letter to the Minister of Tourism

Dear Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane
Minister of Tourism

Thank you for the opportunity to ask questions.  I look forward to watching and hearing your answers and your discussion with the tourism industry at 12h30 today.

I’d like to know who your advisors are because, if your decisions on tourism are based on ideology, you will be leading the entire tourism industry to the same fate as the once-great South African Airways.  (And all SAA’s staff is facing the end of the week knowing their jobs are over, forever.)  Tourism is a business. Ideologies are not.

Gillian Saunders, a well-respected tourism analyst who was advisor to the previous minister, forecast that tourism will lose 1.1 million jobs in South Africa as a result of government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. That’s 75% of all jobs in tourism will be lost.  That is a calamitous figure.  The industry as we know it will no longer exist.

Saunders also said, “Governments worldwide may have miscalculated the economic impacts of their containment measures when it comes to tourism.”

Her forecast was based on a pandemic with an active period of three months.  The SA government’s lockdown has flattened the curve and government has announced that the peak will only be in September.  So the three months becomes seven months and the damage to the industry will be all that much greater.

Your only action has been the establishment of the Tourism Relief Fund with R200 million.  Now that’s really pathetic and almost meaningless for an industry that contributes R130 billion to the GDP!

Near the beginning of March you said “We do not have the resources to offset the damage that our economy will suffer because of this crisis.

“The question is what is it that we need to do, together, in the short to medium term to minimise the impact of the virus on the tourism sector? Given the uncertainty around the evolution of the spread of this virus, we cannot at this moment provide definitive answers.”

Nothing seems to have changed.  Your advisors have failed you.

So here’s a suggestion… surely the survival of the industry is more important than the activities of a marketing agency and a government department?

SA Tourism’s budget is R3.8 billion a year and the National Department of Tourism’s budget is R2.5 billion.  Both could be closed down for a year, staff paid 50% of their salaries to sit at home, and you’ll have a few billion rand left over to safeguard industry jobs.

You have not been representing or fighting for the interests of the industry in government.

The Finance Minister has said that since Tourism will be the last to start, it won’t need its budget which can therefore be reallocated.  Surely this will make the Tourism Ministry redundant?

Life goes on… but Hope is not a Strategy

South Africa’s situation is very different to countries which have already experienced the brunt of the coronavirus.

CoronavirusAs a country, our economy is in tatters after 10 years of State Capture and mismanagement.  National & local government have often been tourism’s worst enemy, demonstrated by the visa issues and, in Cape Town, the Day Zero messaging during the drought. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of the National State of Disaster was timeous and bold. But with empty coffers, the road ahead is going to be an almost-impossible balancing act.

The biggest challenge in SA in going to be keeping people alive — not only from Covid-19, but keeping a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected that between 160 million and 214 million people in the United States could be infected over the course of the pandemic. As many as 200,000 to 1.7 million people could die in the USA.  German chancellor Angela Merkel said she expects 70% of Germany’s population to become infected.

In South Africa, between 28 million and 40 million people could be infected and between 35,000 and 300,000 South Africans could die, mainly the elderly and immuno-compromised.  In 2015, some 200,000 South Africans over the age of 60 years died, mostly due to old age and disease. There will be significant overlap, with elderly people dying sooner and over a shorter period of time, due to respiratory issues, but the total number of deaths in 2020 might not be much more than in 2019.  (In 2018, according to the WHO, 64,000 South Africans died from tuberculosis – a treatable disease.)

But remember, these are only opinions not facts, and opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge.  China seems to be past the worst of its crisis, with “only” 0.0056% of its total population infected by the virus.  Italy as of 18 March has reported 0.059% of its population being infected.  In Germany it’s 0,015%.

But in spite of all that, life goes on.  We can slow the virus down — mainly so that health services are not overburdened (as they became in Italy) — but… until a vaccine is developed… it will run it’s course.

The big challenge is to flatten the curve so that healthcare services can cope

The big challenge is to flatten the curve so that healthcare services can cope

The virus appears to be like the common cold and flu — it prefers cold weather, so it is seasonal.  The coming summer in the northern hemisphere should help there, but it could mean that it’s partially dormant in South Africa until winter starts in the coming months.

Of those impacted 80% will be early-stage, 15% mid-stage and 5% critical-stage. Early-stage symptoms are like the common cold and mid-stage symptoms are like flu; these are stay at home for two weeks and rest. Some 5-6% will be critical, requiring hospitalisation, and highly weighted towards the elderly.

There is a debate as to how to address the virus before vaccines become available.  Quarantine is likely to be ineffective in the long term and will result in significant economic damage but will slow the rate of transmission giving the healthcare system more time to deal with the case load.

Finding out what’s happening and what the plans are

If you go to the Department of Health’s website, as advised by SA Tourism, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.  Their last update was on 20 February.

The Department of Health's website shows the last status update for Coronavirus as of 20 February 2020. (Today is 18 March.)

The Department of Health’s website shows the last status update for Coronavirus as of 20 February 2020. (Today is 18 March.)

Nowhere on the Department of Health’s website does it tell you that they have opened a new website for Coronavirus — https://sacoronavirus.co.za/.  But even that wasn’t kept up to date — the last update was on 15 March until late on 17 March.  The President acknowledged shortfalls in keeping the public informed and promised total transparency.  I hope Finance minister Tito Mboweni heard that — at a session with the media, he refused to divulge how much money is in the Disaster Fund which he will be tapping into to support government’s efforts.

While CapeInfo accepts that South Africa’s biggest challenge is going to be how it affects our poor, our primary focus is tourism, so the impact this pandemic could have on the tourism industry is what concerns us most.  I was disappointed that the President’s announcement paid so little attention to tourism — because it is the one industry that can address so many of SA’s economic and social woes.

What do we know and what has been said?

Minister of Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, on 9 March 2020:  “Simply put, ladies and gentlemen, we do not have the resources to offset the damage that our economy will suffer because of this crisis.

“The question is what is it that we need to do, together, in the short to medium term to minimise the impact of the virus on the tourism sector? Given the uncertainty around the evolution of the spread of this virus, we cannot at this moment provide definitive answers.”

Sisa Ntshona, CEO of SA Tourism, quoted in BusinessLive and Fin24.

News reports in BusinessLive and News24 carried reports from the industry in the week leading up to the President’s announcing the State of Disaster.  I was astounded at the lack of insight or foresight.

SA Tourism’s CEO statement that domestic travel may be the antidote to the drop in foreign arrivals was mind-boggling!  That wasn’t achieved during last year’s drop in international arrivals and completely ignored the reality of what was happening in the rest of the world.

On 15 March in Fin24, Hospitality body Fedhasa Cape says its member establishments are ready to welcome visitors to the Western Cape despite global travel concerns.

“While we have seen a decline in travellers from affected countries, such as Italy, we’ve seen more visitors from countries such as the US, Canada and Germany. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the resilience of travellers, and this upswing could be a result of travellers choosing to visit destinations that have not been severely affected by the virus,” says FEDHASA Cape spokesperson Richard Lyon.

What’s happening internationally to support economies?

  • In the USA, the Trump administration has called for a $1 trillion infusion, a quarter of it in direct cheques to millions of Americans, while the Federal Reserve said it would backstop a separate $1 trillion source that is used by companies to cover payroll and day-to-day operations.
  • In Europe, hundreds of billions of euros have been pledged to support citizens and the economy. A halt to utility bills, mortage payments and other support processes are planned or already in effect.

Watching Spain

Coronavirus: Flattening the curve successes

From the NY Times: China & South Korea have achieved successes in flattening the curve. China had no new infections in the past 24 hours.

I’ve paid particularly close attention to what’s been happening in Spain, and specifically the Canary Islands, one of Spain’s autonomous regions where tourism accounts for about 36% of its GDP.

Spain’s State of Alarm was announced on 13 March, two days before SA’s National State of Disaster was announced.  What has impressed me about Spain’s response has been that, once the decision was taken, they have moved rapidly and changed decisions as they moved ahead.  Their initial State of Alarm was for 15 days.  The following day it was made indefinite.  On the Canaries, meetings were held on the Monday, communicated to central government, and plans were implemented.

On the Canaries, they have basically locked the whole Island down.  All visitors are being repatriated, in the friendliest possible way so the brand isn’t damaged.  Flights between the Islands and the rest of the world have been drastically reduced (115 daily flights to 18), and only for essential travel.  Aircraft, most of which have six seats in a row, may only carry 2 passengers per row, to allow social distancing.

Everybody has been encouraged to work from home.  By Tuesday, the Minister of Public Administrations announced that about 80% of the public staff of the Autonomous Community work from their homes,  while the remaining 20% ​​have gone to their usual jobs.

The only permitted reasons for being outdoors is to get to or from work, to buy groceries and medicines, to put fuel into a vehicle, to visit elderly or sick, or to walk your dog.  (I love the Spanish!)  Big fines are levied for anyone who transgresses this.  On the first day this was introduced, a couple jogging were the first to be stopped.  Spain is serious about implementing its laws.

On 3 March, the Canaries minister of tourism, industry & commerce had announced that 24 million euros (about R430 million) was  being budgeted for promotion to reactivate their main markets later in the year.

Following their State of Alarm, a trickle of large companies throughout Spain immediately announced that they will be implementing “ERTEs,” a temporary layoff of workers. At least 100,000 people face temporarily losing their jobs.  On the Canaries, the first “ERTEs” came from schools which had been closed, and the layoff period for these was 14 days.

When supplies of hand sanitizer on the Canaries ran out on Monday, the Military Pharmacy was instructed to prepare additional supplies.

On Tuesday, the President of the Canary Islands Government, Ángel Víctor Torres, described the measures adopted by the Central Executive  as “brave”.  It is also the “greatest economic injection ever” made by the central government, motivated by “circumstances that have never been experienced before,” amounting to about 200 billion euros, according to the news website eldia.es.

What is being planned to support South Africa’s economy and citizens?

I spent three days trying to find someone who has a plan.  I contacted the ministries at the national Department of Tourism and Western Cape Department of Economic Opportunities, Wesgro, City of Cape Town, and Cape Town Tourism.  All I found were consultations with stakeholders, workstreams, and lots of talk.

Given the speed which other countries are responding to the crisis, I was appalled.  I had a heated discussion with one politician who rattled off a long list of “plans” because they were no more than engagements.  A plan is not a plan until it has a timeline and budgets.

A Whatsapp voice message from the Western Cape department of economic development & tourism on Tuesday evening said the following: (click on the arrow below)

After a month of work there are no concrete plans or timelines?  Nothing at all?  I’m sorry, that’s not good enough.

Western Cape premier, Alan Winde, in his regular video talk to citizens the following morning had the following to say about tourism,:

This seems somewhat at odds with his economic development & tourism department.

What can you do?  Use the opportunity to completely restart the way we do things…

    • Don’t panic; Don’t despair — it weakens your immune system.  Stop following social media if it upsets you; find friends to discuss your problems with.
    • Look for the positive in the situation you find yourself I and make the most of this time to regroup, innovate and create.
    • Practice strict social distancing — keep people 2 metres away from you.  If you’re in a queue, don’t allow others to stand close.  Retailers (and wherever people have to queue) should be enforcing this.
    • Wash your hands… often.
    • Rather than close down or retrench staff, look at a long winter holiday.  Negotiate UIF payments for staff (which local governments should assist with) so you don’t lose your most important assets.  (Grande Roche Hotel in Paarl used to close for three months every winter when they first opened, because winter wasn’t worth staying open for. UIF was paid immediately so there was no waiting period.)  If you can close for three months, you will be helping the rest of the industry.
    • Re-purpose your business and look for additional income streams.
    • Look for new niche markets.  As Western Cape premier Alan Winde said on Wednesday, “Tourism hasn’t stopped.”
    • Work from home.  In the Canary Islands during their lock down, they found that Estate Agents work as well from home.  If this trend can be magnified, traffic congestion will become a permanent thing of the past and the savings on city rents, travel & parking, and wasted time will only enhance personal lifestyles.
    • Tackle all your New Year’s resolutions for the last 10 years in one go!  Stop smoking and cut down on alcohol — because with COVID-19’s help — they will kill you.  Start an exercise regimen at home (use Youtube for ideas to save money on gym fees) because you need to be fit to beat COVID-19.  Viruses don’t like UV light. They don’t like sunshine.  So do get outside.
    • Broaden your mind.  UCT, amongst others, has excellent online courses.  For leisure, take virtual tours of the world’s great museums. Or a virtual trip on the Orient Express.
    • Country accommodation establishments must promote themselves to city residents… providing they “deep clean” the rooms after every guest leaves; their establishment provides space for social distancing between groups of guests; and follow all necessary protocols.  To retain their sanity, city folk who can afford to travel are going to be looking for safe options.

It really is a crazy and untenable situation when almost the only group who are not economically distressed during the coronavirus crisis are public sector employees.

  • And…  Demand that all political heads and the management of all tourism-related bureaucracies/agencies should have their salaries linked to a tourism index.  So they take pain too when the industry does badly. It really is a crazy and untenable situation when almost the only people who are not economically distressed during the coronavirus crisis are public sector employees.

In 2009/10 to counter World Cup price gouging, and in 2017 during the drought, CapeInfo promoted accommodation establishments which were offering fair prices and those who were independent of their municipal water supplies.

For the current National State of Disaster, we plan to identify accommodation establishments which offer suitable accommodation and commit to the necessary health protocols for country getaways.  Tourism will go on.  As more and more city attractions close, and self-isolation takes grip, city people will need an escape from cities and a healthy dose of space, relaxation and open air.  They might also suitable for guests who want to self-isolate.  The requirements are:

  • Units must be sufficient far apart to ensure that each party of guests does not have to come into contact with other guests.
  • All staff follow rigorous COVID-19 hygiene protocols
  • Alcohol-based sanitisers in each unit
  • Relevant precautionary gear available for all guests and staff
  • Frequent cleaning of regularly touched surfaces and concerted efforts to maintain high hygiene and safety standards
  • Deep cleaning of all rooms after each party of guests leave.

The Spanish peninsula decided to follow the Canaries example and is busy closing all hotels.  As soon as we receive confirmation that nothing similar is planned here, we will write to all CapeInfo’s member establishments inviting them to participate in this promotion.

Is this another example of corruption or complete incompetence at SAPS?

I need a Police Clearance Certificate from the SA Police Services for a visa.  The SAPS website says this takes around 15 days.  But when I go to the local police station for fingerprinting and to complete the form, they say it takes three to four months.  “There’s a backlog,” they say…

Police Clearance Certificate

From the SAPS website…

The cost of completing the necessary form (although you can download the form online) and fingerprinting is R114 at any police station and they can send it to Pretoria for you, but you can get the Police Clearance certificate in 7 working days if you pay R3500 to an outside company!

That’s what VisaLogistics offers.  Have you used them?  Are you a satisfied customer?

That’s what VisaLogistics offers

A fee of R3,500.00 covers far, far more than the cost of courier services.  Or even the cost of someone walking an application through the backlogged system.   One has to wonder if it covers hefty bribes to beat the backlog.  Or is it a scam where they tell you to be patient because of the backlog… once they already have your hefty fee.

It’s seems there’s one system for Joe Citizen and another for the wealthy — the ANC’s way of doing things.

Certificates RSA offer a turnaround time of 10–25 working days from day of submission.  I’m waiting to hear what their fees are.  Their phones don’t work!

Maybe Andrew Whitfield MP, the DA’s shadow minister for Police, will take this up because there doesn’t seem to be any political will at the ANC.  Frontline SAPS staffers are counting on you Andrew!  They get the brunt of the public’s dissatisfaction while Bheki Cele hides under his hats. The SAPS staff suggest that this function be handled at provincial level.

This story will be updated…

Zero Alcohol Drink & Drive comes in June

The new traffic regulations, which introduce a 0% legal blood-alcohol limit in June 2020, means that drivers will not be allowed to drink alcohol and drive at all.

Restaurants, accommodation establishments and wine estates need to remind guests — especially foreign guests — of this and offer solutions.  For accommodation establishments:

  • Are you within walking distance of restaurants and pubs?
  • Are there ride-hailing services, taxis and shuttle services available for your guests?

The last thing any accommodation establishment wants  is — horror of all horrors — its guests being locked up in a SA prison.  If you have an on-site pub or restaurant, you’re sure to benefit from these regulations.

Will motorists be penalized more harshly than pedestrians?  Nearly half of the deaths that occur on South African roads are of pedestrians. High levels of alcohol abuse result in drunk people walking on the roads.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please let us have them.