Tourism chief ponders on future of local industry after season marred by restrictions

Report by: Patty Butterworth - Plett Tourism CEO

THE entire country was in a complete state of shock when hearing the news released by president Cyril Ramaphosa on December 15 about the closure of all Garden Route beaches. Towns along the Route were further devastated as beach closures were extended from its initial early January end-date.
The negative impact was quick: accommodation cancellations were conservatively at less 30% due to the closure of local beaches up to January 3, with an additional 30-40% in cancellations when the ban was extended.
Plett Tourism Association, in conjunction with Bitou Municipality and other business leaders, have been extremely busy keeping the community safe, responding to the needs of our residents, and looking after our industry.
The outlook for the tourism sector remains highly uncertain. The coronavirus pandemic continues to hit hard; domestic tourism is helping to soften the blow - at least partially.
Encouraging news on vaccines has boosted hopes for recovery, but challenges remain, with the sector expected to remain in survival mode for quite some time.
Domestic tourism has restarted and is helping to mitigate the impact on jobs and businesses in some areas. However, real recovery will only be possible when international tourism returns. This requires global co-operation and evidence-based solutions so travel restrictions can be safely lifted.
The crisis is an opportunity to rethink the future of the industry. Tourism is at a crossroads and measures put in place today will shape the tourism of tomorrow.
We are hopeful after announcements made by the president February 1, easing some of the Level 3 restrictions, that towns along the Garden Route will start to see a steady increase in visitors.
Holiday-home owners who left may return to enjoy our beautiful beaches, fresh air and the many outdoor experiences longed for after a succession of lockdown levels.
With the extension of trading hours for restaurants and the opening of alcohol sales and consumption, we look forward to welcoming guests from South Africa and possibly international travellers who are escaping a harsh winter or are looking for an unforgettable beach holiday.