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Tourism fights back after covid-19 decimation

The Marula Cultural Route in Mpumalanga is one of the hardest hit by the covid-19 lockdown. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media

A lodge owner who was forced to retrench two thirds of her staff due to covid-19 lockdown sees rise in bookings and hopes to rehire some of the workers in province that has seen 66% of tourism sector small business shut down due to pandemic

Tourism and hospitality sector businesswoman Caroline Nake was forced to retrench 15 of her 20 staff members due to the covid-19 lockdown but the Mpumalanga entrepreneur is slowly bouncing back.

Her business, Tinyiko Country Lodge in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga was doing well until the entire world was turned upside down by the outbreak of the Corona virus pandemic.

The restriction of travel resulted in her business losing money as no one was allowed to go anywhere except for essentials travel.

She had to make tough decisions for her business to survive the pandemic which resulted in 15 out of 20 staff members retrenched and left with no jobs and income.

Nake regards retrenchment the biggest and worst resort she had to take to protect her business from bankruptcy. Although she received a government backed loan to help her business survive during the pandemic, she says it was not enough to maintain the business while the entire world was on shut down.

According to the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) as many as 100 million direct tourism jobs are at risk, in addition to sectors associated with tourism such as labour-intensive accommodation and food services industries that provide employment for 144 million workers worldwide.

The WTO says small businesses, which shoulder 80% of global tourism are particularly vulnerable and women, who make up 54% of the tourism workforce, youth and workers in the informal economy are among the most at-risk categories.

Although many businesses are undergoing a digital transformation as a strategy to keep their businesses up and running, not much was done of her side. She describes the accommodation business as hands on and not anything that can be done online. Employees have to interact with the guests to be able to give them the best service possible.

Now that the spread of covid-19 is rapidly decreasing, the tourism industry is starting to pick up as more and more businesses are starting to operate again including Tinyiko Kruger Lodge.

Nake highlighted that although she suffered major financial loss during lockdown, business is starting to pick up as people are now making bookings. Now that the business is up and running several precautionary measures have been put in place to keep her staff and customers safe from the virus. She is fully booked for December and hopes to be able bring back all the retrenched staff by next year.

As a dedicated and passionate entrepreneur, Nake continues to flourish in business and has won herself two awards at provincial level and one at national level. The impact of Covid-19 did not stop her from achieving her dreams but presented her with an opportunity to continue making her mark.

A study by University of Mpumalanga Tourism Lecturer Dr Julia Giddy and Professor Jayne Rogerson from the University of Johannesburg conducted in Bushbuckridge, suggests that tourism in that region has been severely impacted by COVID-19.

In the Bushbuckridge area, the debilitating impact of the pandemic was exacerbated by the fact that most businesses are dominated by international tourists rather than the domestic market.

One of the most significant problems mentioned by the majority of businesses was the travel ban because of the area’s orientation towards the high-end international tourist market.

Most business owners said their adaptation strategies included reducing prices, staff reductions, and general business downsizing. The majority of respondents cited downsizing related to staffing. Several had to cut major portions of their staff, while many others have staff operating on part-time salaries.

The research revealed that adaptation to the crisis has been challenging because of the financial impacts experienced by these enterprises in the wake of minimal government support.

The perspectives of domestic leisure tourists in South Africa would assist in gaining a better understanding of the potential for domestic tourism to maintain the local tourism economy as the pandemic persists.

Meanwhile, Kruger Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism (KLCBT) Chief Operating Officer Linda Grimbeek has called on residents of Mpumalanga to get vaccinated to save the tourism industry, writes Masoka Dube.
In an interview Grimbeek revealed that a total of 66 per cent of Mpumalanga based small businesses in the tourism industry have already closed down due to the international travel restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that ravaged the world.
The Mpumalanga Lowveld region plays a vital role in attracting international tourists as it has many nature-based tourists attraction sites.
“It is out of the question that the industry has suffered a huge loss due to the laws that were put in place to curb the spread of the virus. We are calling on everyone to get vaccinated so that South Africa will be taken out of the red tape. If we can all get our jabs it will indicate to the international community that it is safe to visit the country and more travelling allowance will be granted.
All of the businesses in the Mpumalanga Lowveld are dependent on the tourism value chain – that is abundantly clear now.
“The sooner we reach our vaccination targets that are expected of international travellers, South Africa will be open for business. Get vaccinated. If you have a scientifically informed opinion that prevents you from taking the vaccine, then at least stop scaring other people and stop propaganda against the vaccine. We need South Africa open, our people are starving. We now have the highest unemployment rate in the world,” said Grimbeek.

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