In responding to South Africa’s challenges, the ANC government is often accused of developing plans that lack implementation detail. Such plans are dismissed as “yet another pie in the sky promise.” This criticism, however, does not apply to the Tourism Sector Recovery Plan released by government early this year. Frankly, it would be unfair to criticize this plan as being thin on detail. As a start, the plan has a total of 40 pages, almost 20 of which are dedicated to outlining implementation including a detailed work programme with clearly defined tasks, targets, timeframes and the responsible implementing authority.

The plan acknowledges the vital contribution of the tourism sector to the South African economy as the second-largest economic sector in South Africa. The sector contributed 8.6% (R 425.8 billion) to GDP and provided 1.5 million jobs in 2018. It is the engine room of small business, and a significant generator of employment for individuals with varying skills levels, including women in rural areas and young people. Tourism is also a major earner of foreign exchange and has strong multiplier effects across the economy given its forward and backward linkages to other economic sectors.

The COVID-19 health and economic crisis has been particularly devastating on the sector. Occupancy levels are at historic lows. Many iconic tourism and hospitality facilities such as hotels and restaurants have been forced either to scale down their operations, or shut down permanently. Jobs have been lost and the livelihoods of those depending on the sector have been decimated. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) expects the sector to return to pre-crisis levels only in 2023. Until then, the sector will largely be in survival mode, with many tourism jobs and businesses remaining at risk.

However, with every crisis comes an opportunity. In the words of the Secretary-General of the UNWTO, Zurab Pololikashvili; “This (COVID-19) crisis is an opportunity to rethink the tourism sector and its contribution to the people and planet; an opportunity to build back better towards a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient tourism sector that ensures the benefits of tourism are enjoyed widely and fairly.” In the main, South Africa’s response seeks to steer the tourism sector towards a more sustainable and inclusive path, thus guaranteeing its resilience and ensuring that its benefits are spread far and wide.   

One of the plan’s major strengths is that it draws heavily on the contributions from the constituent partners within the sector. The plan, therefore, represents the sector’s collective response to the multiple challenges brought on by COVID-19. The plan is also aligned to the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP) announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in October last year. The ERRP reaffirms tourism’s position as a major contributor to the South African economy and its envisaged role in the economic reconstruction and recovery effort.

The tourism recovery plan identifies specific, targeted, coordinated interventions with times frames for implementation to ignite the recovery of the tourism sector. These interventions are anchored on three strategic themes or pillars namely: protecting and rejuvenating the supply side, re-igniting demand and strengthening enabling capability for long term sustainability.  Guided by these themes, the following seven strategic interventions have been identified to support the revival and long-term sustainability of the sector:

  1. Implement norms and standards for safe operation across the tourism value chain to enable safe travel and the rebuilding of traveler confidence;


  1. Stimulate domestic demand through targeted initiatives and campaigns;


  1. Strengthening the supply-side through resource mobilization and investment facilitation;


  1. Support for the protection of core tourism infrastructure and assets;


  1. Execute a global marketing programme to reignite international demand;


  1. Tourism regional integration; and


  1. Review the tourism policy to provide enhanced support for the sector’s growth and development.

A further set of key enablers have been identified namely: forming targeted, strategic partnerships between government and industry; partnering with relevant departments to ensure improved travel facilitation through the implementation of e-visas, tourist safety, airlift capacity and quicker turnaround times in the processing of tour operator licenses; deployment of the vaccine to frontline tourism workers, attainment of population immunity and participating in global efforts to facilitate safe travel; as well as stimulating domestic demand through government consumption expenditure. The implementation of enablers will be led by responsible line departments working closely with the Department of Tourism and its sector partners.

In terms of impact, it is expected that, together, the interventions and enablers outlined in the tourism recovery plan will facilitate the preservation of R189 billion in value, help the sector to recover to its 2019 output and employment levels by 2023, as well as position the sector for long-term sustainable growth. Furthermore, the implementation of the plan will reduce the impact of the COVID -19 crisis on employment by 125 000 jobs.

The pace and scale of the COVID-19 vaccine deployment as well as the emergence of new variants of the coronavirus are identified as posing a down side risks to the recovery of the tourism sector. Equally, South Africa’s brand positioning, the easing and removal of travel restrictions, especially from key inbound source markets are also identified as risks. In this regard the South Africa’s progress in rolling out the vaccination programme is a welcome development. It will help with brand positioning as well as the easing and removal of travel restrictions from our major source markets. Also welcome is the considerable amount of work being done to position South Africa as a brand that provides a COVID-19 safe tourist experience through the implementation of norms and standards for safe operations across the tourism value chain.

We urge South Africans to continue to travel domestically as domestic travel will, for the foreseeable future, be the main driver of the South African tourism sector. This is also important because domestic tourism can act as an indicator of the health and security in travel destinations in preparation for the arrival of international visitors. Ultimately, however, we look forward to the day where we will be able to welcome back to our shores tourists from all over the world. If the sector continues to work together – as was demonstrated during the crafting of the plan – that day is not in too distant a future.




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