Tag Archives: Supra Mahumapelo

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.

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.