Covid has cut jobs in South Africa’s tourism sector by a third – and a full recovery will take years

  • South Africa’s tourism industry shed nearly 500,000 jobs in the first year of the pandemic, with little respite in 2021, thanks to targeted travel bans.
  • Travel to South Africa fell by almost 80%, with vital foreign spending faring worse.
  • And it’s not just the pandemic that the tourism sector needs to recover from.
  • July’s unrest and recent flooding in KwaZulu-Natal has led to a “negative brand image”, according to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Tourism.
  • Experts do not expect international travel to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
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South Africa’s tourism sector shed almost 500,000 jobs in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, with stubborn travel restrictions in 2021 adding to the pain of the beleaguered industry.

Covid-19 has crippled the global travel industry. Border closures, flight suspensions and onerous entry requirements have led to a collapse in tourism, with far-reaching consequences for the wider hospitality sector.

South Africa’s tourism sector, which before the pandemic contributed around 3.7% to the country’s total GDP, has been one of the hardest hit. The sector, which relies heavily on foreign arrivals to boost visitor spending, has been clamped down with targeted travel bans following South Africa’s discovery of new variants of Covid-19.

According to Stats SA, tourist travel to South Africa fell by 78% in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, with foreign visitors down by 85%.

Nearly 1.5 million direct and indirect jobs were supported by the travel industry in South Africa before the pandemic. That employment level fell to less than 990,000 in 2020, a reduction of 32.4%, with little reprieve in 2021, as Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu revealed during a speech on the vote. of the budget on Thursday.

Direct industry-supported jobs include hotels, travel agencies, airlines, and other passenger transportation services, while indirect jobs extend more to employment in hospitality industries , catering and leisure.

“Like a gunshot from nowhere, our bustling tourism was abruptly interrupted with the advent of Covid-19. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was immediate and devastating,” Sisulu said during his speech in Parliament.

And although travel to and within South Africa showed signs of recovery in the first quarter of 2022, tourism activity is still far from pre-pandemic levels.

The recovery of the industry has been further hampered by the unrest in July and the recent devastating floods in KwaZulu-Natal, as noted by the Parliamentary Tourism Committee. These factors have resulted in a “negative brand image” for South Africa, further deterring potential travelers and slowing the recovery process.

And it’s unclear when — or even if — international travel will return to pre-pandemic levels.

“Global tourism is rebounding despite continued Covid restrictions and the effects of conflict in Ukraine, but tourist arrival numbers have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery is slow and uneven according to regions of the world, and this is due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates and traveler confidence,” Sisulu said.

Most experts believe that international travel will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, at the earliest, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

The South African Tourism Department receives a medium-term budget of R7.6 billion. Most of this money will be spent on tourism research, policy and international relations management.

“The budget allocation has returned to 2019 allocations following the lifting of global lockdowns and travel bans and vaccination rollouts. The increase in allocation is aimed at sector recovery initiatives,” noted the portfolio committee.

Over R350 million has been allocated to support services to the tourism sector, with the aim of improving processing, raising skill levels and supporting the development of the sector.

“We have thousands of SMEs in our townships, rural areas and small dorpies offering authentic creative experiences along our tourism value chain,” Sisulu said of the various initiatives including the tourism incentive program. Tourism, the Ranking Support Program and the Equity Fund for Tourism in Legal Distress. (TEF), aimed at empowering small businesses.

“These SMMEs are crucial to our goal of inclusive and sustainable tourism and help spread the benefits of tourism to communities outside of traditional tourism hotspots.”

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