Recently, South African scientists detected the new COVID-19 variant called Omicron. South Africa's decision to announce the detection of the new variant resulted in some countries such as the United Kingdom and America closing their borders to SA. In short SA was again placed on the Red List. On the other hand, the World Health Organisation (WHO) commended SA health officials for quickly reporting the detection as this act demonstrates solidarity and humanity.
Due to the pandemic jobs were lost, salaries cut, and more responsibility fell on the shoulders of those who continued to receive a full income. Since the world was forced to close international travel, active domestic tourism became key to saving a collapsing sector.
Unlocking Local Tourism
To boost the travel and tourism sector, while protecting its citizens from COVID-19, the South African Ministry of Tourism opened intra-provincial tourism, followed by inter-tourism. At the beginning of September, the MEC for Finance, Economic Development and Tourism in Mpumalanga, Mr Vusi Mkhatshwa launched a tourism programme and a series of events and activities aimed at promoting the province and encouraging local communities to travel within the province. He explained that the tourism sector plays an integral part in our society as it has the potential contribution to social development and economic growth.
Domestic tourism is key in ensuring that local people discover the diverse offerings available locally and benefit from them. It is therefore important to ensure that tourism products developed are sustainable and accessible to all.
At an event organised by Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), Mr Oupa Pilane, the president of the Kruger Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism (KLCBT) said, there was not much usage of accommodation and tourist attractions during intra-tourism. He further indicated that the number of visitors started to increase when inter-tourism was opened. This is evidence to the fact that local people are not taking part in tourism activities as expected.
Former MTPA Board Chairperson, Mr Thulani Nzima pleaded with the attendees to invest their disposable income towards domestic travel activities instead of investing on material things that eventually will not carry any value. He also emphasized that, whenever planning for leisure travel, locals should firstly consider exploring their own province and know their province better before going to other provinces.
This implies that Mpumalanga tourism is mostly supported and dependent on travellers coming from outside of the province and international tourists. It has been established that to attract domestic tourists, in particular from the local areas, there is a need to comprehend the culture, accommodation, food and entertainment in the travel areas, and then package it in an affordable manner that will encourage locals to start travelling and make use of the available products/services presented by the eight sectors supporting or making up the travel and tourism industry.
The presented evidence suggests that socio-economic factors have an influence on the decision making of the local people as the majority fall below the poverty line and the province is dominated by rural areas.
The new normal – Post COVID-19
On the 27 October 2021, Dr Shabalala with her tourism students participated in an education tour, which incorporated visiting establishments in the tourism sector.
During the engagement, one manager indicated that they are now being asked by guests/potential guests if their staff members are vaccinated. This is also an indicator that some guests may not choose a certain establishment based on the vaccination status of staff members instead of the service rendered by that particular establishment, showing that vaccination does play a pivotal role for reigniting the sector.
Moving forward, establishments may be forced to decide if they will keep an unvaccinated employee at the expense or possibility of losing a paying customer. This experience was an eye opener to the students as well and it also made them realise the extent to which COVID-19 is changing the game of the sector that they will be joining in the near future. One can say, in such situations, identifying and accepting what needs to be done in order to save what is left, and putting adaptation measures in place become key.
Lastly, Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) in collaboration with Mpumalanga Department of Health came up with an initiative called “Jab for Tourism” to encourage tourists and the community at large to vaccinate in support of tourism.
Therefore, an increase in vaccination rates is almost sure to help boost the recovery of the travel and tourism sector. In addition to the approved norms and standards for the safe operations of Tourism Sector in the context of Coronavirus and beyond, vaccination is viewed as the comprehensive way to fight the impact of COVID-19.
This is an opinion piece by Dr Precious Shabalala, Tourism and Heritage Lecturer at the University of Mpumalanga (UMP). Pictures Supplied.
ARTICLE SOURCE: heitacomms.co.za