Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on the South African economy, but two sectors have been particularly hard-hit by the lockdown regulations. Tourists stopped travelling and restaurants were unable to operate. As vaccination rates increase and lockdown levels are relaxed, how do the tourism and restaurant sectors recover, if at all?

When The Tourists Stopped Coming

South Africa has always been one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. Before Covid-19 hit our shores and the country went into lockdown, tourists would flock to the country to enjoy the majestic scenery, great weather, and friendly people, while taking advantage of the favorable currency exchange rates.

The tourism sector contributed billions of rands to the economy and provided a great many jobs in a country where employment levels are low. When the tourists stopped coming, it was not only popular attractions such as the Kruger National Park and Table Mountain that suffered. Guest houses and hotels remained empty, while restaurants started closing in quick succession, unable to keep their doors open when the international and local diners dried up.

To say that this is a disaster is the understatement of the century.

Food Services Decimated

During the worst days of the lockdown, food service providers saw declines of up to 100% with some recording no sales at all. Add to this the restrictions on alcohol sales, and it is easy to understand how a once profitable sector recorded billions in lost income.

The cost of food has also increased dramatically, which has meant that restaurants have had to adjust their prices upwards to compensate for what Agri SA has described as a “punch in the gut”.

Even when lockdown levels were relaxed, the limitations placed on the number of patrons and the strict operating hours have not done anyone any favors. Wave after wave of infections have had restrictions tightened and the Delta wave has been particularly bad for the sector in general.

Then Came The Riots

Just when you thought that things couldn’t get worse, the riots came and especially KZN suffered badly. This is a province that is heavily reliant on tourism. With some infrastructure damaged beyond repair and the economy suffering another severe blow because of it, it is yet to be seen how that province will recover.

Gauteng was not spared either and the loss to the SA economy because of this politically orchestrated chaos has cost the economy billions upon billions of rand, with the recovery predicted to take several years.

Lessons Learned

South Africans are resilient and no matter what hardships befall us, we always seem to find the humor in the situation and make the best of a bad situation. Restaurants in particular have had to learn some hard lessons, such as that they need to keep their house in order and make provision for emergency funds.

One of the main lessons has been that brand strength and customer loyalty will set the sustainable business apart from the seasonal one. Franchises are expected to weather the storm better than independent operations, and they are expected to emerge stronger than before.

The restaurant industry specifically and tourism in general are industries not for the faint of heart. It takes guts and determination to succeed in what some would call a cut-throat industry. Long hours, passion and commitment are required and after all the troubles we’ve experienced in the past almost two years, it will be interesting to see how this sector finds its feet again and if a new breed of entrepreneurs will step forward and take up the challenge.

How To Get The Message Out That Tourism Is Open

One of the biggest challenges for tourism will be how to communicate with customers going forward and draw them back to support these types of businesses. With so many people having turned to online shopping and making Zoom meetings an everyday occurrence, it is clear that having an online presence and communicating through electronic devices are going to be key in rebuilding these sectors.

Establishments that have not yet relied on websites will need to urgently increase their online footprint. Social media will become a key way of communicating with people, sending the message that restaurants, guest houses, hotels, tour operators, and others who work in the tourism sector are open for business.

Writing stories that are engaging and that will help people understand not only the challenges they have faced, but also the solutions they have come up with, will be an important way to get tourists and patrons back. Content marketing will be invaluable in the efforts of rebuilding.

The challenge is that not every business person has the skill to write engaging articles, take great photos, and create social media posts that will generate leads. They will have to spend all their efforts in rebuilding their businesses and so need the expert help of marketing agencies who have the expertise to reach their audience and communicate effectively. More than that, they must have the ability to turn their marketing into actual feet crossing the thresholds of businesses who have been severely affected by the state of disaster the country has faced.

Now, more than ever, we as a country have to help each other and do what we as South Africans do best – make innovative plans and display our resilience and ubuntu. There are four ways in which our economy can be rebuilt. Growth must be prioritized above money; confidence must be built; testing and tracing must continue, while vaccination rates must increase; and finally, there has to be more targeted support.

Together we can overcome the challenges we have faced, build a more inclusive economy and create prosperity for all. It will however only happen when we pull together as a nation and come up with innovative solutions. The only way forward is together. South Africans can use this opportunity to build our nation according to the ideals of visionaries like Nelson Mandela.

The time has come for us to do whatever it takes to realize the vision of a prosperous, united nation.

If your business has had setbacks due to the pandemic and the recent riots, please reach out to Baird.Media. We want to help you build up again. Let’s start a conversation and work together to rebuild. We’re waiting for you to make contact.