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South Africa looks to tourism recovery

By NDUMISO MLILO in Johannesburg, South Africa | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-10-22 10:01
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Penguins put on a show in Simon's Town, a tourism destination in southwest South Africa, on Sept 29. [CHEN CHENG/XINHUA]

South African tourism is showing signs of improvement following the easing of pandemic travel restrictions, though a total recovery is unlikely until international travel fully opens.

The country is now on the lowest alert at lockdown level one, with COVID-19 cases having declined from more than 20,000 a day at the height of the pandemic to fewer than 1,000. People are now allowed to travel for business or leisure, and the government is currently trying to boost domestic tourism by offering discounts of up to 50 percent on travel and accommodation.

Fish Mahlalela, the deputy tourism minister, said the situation has improved, but not normalized. He said the government has given financial and nonfinancial relief to tourism industry players to mitigate the effects of COVID-19.

"The tourism industry is ready for a reset. We are providing various support mechanisms which include training, relief funds, mentorship, business opportunities and how to manage businesses,"Mahlalela said.

"Until such time that the international market is fully open, it would not be easy to say we have recovered. The situation has improved and we are hoping that we will start next year with economies fully open."

Blacky Komani, deputy CEO of leading tourism company Tourvest in South Africa, said people are concerned about their health before traveling and the country has to assure foreign travelers that it is safe to do so.

"The situation is improving and we are starting to see some green shoots in some of our markets,"Komani said.

Relief fund

Mathato Tlokitsi, chairperson of Women in Tourism who owns two guesthouses, said COVID-19 hit tourism hard, forcing some to suspend operations and lay off employees.

She received a $3,300 relief fund, which she used to pay for some bills like electricity and other costs. The government allowed employers to claim unemployment insurance fund during the pandemic, and Tlokitsi said the fund helped her pay employees. She said the sector is opening up with some increase in bookings after restrictions were eased.

Dumisani Dlamini, chief financial officer of the South African National Parks, said the number of tourists visiting national parks in the country has increased this year. Last year, they had 1.9 million visitors at the parks, with 1.1 million visitors in the first six months of this year.

South Africa is also training tour guides to speak Mandarin to enable them to better communicate with Chinese tourists, one of the country's targeted tourism sources.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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