Data released this week by the Western Cape Government show the dramatic impact Level 3 lockdown restrictions and the Covid-19 pandemic have had on the tourism industry.

According to David Maynier, Western Cape Minister of Finance and Economic Opportunities, the top attractions in the province have shown a 60% decline in visitors over the peak season.

“This data confirms the desperate state of the tourism and hospitality industry in the Western Cape and considering the evidence that the Western Cape is passed its peak and the demand on our health services is stabilising, this reinforces the need to relax the Level 3 restrictions that are negatively impacting the economy,” Maynier said.

Local tourism businesses echoed the minister’s call, with one of them saying that several tourism businesses would not survive if the ban on the sale of alcohol, the early curfew and the closure of beaches continued.

International tourist arrivals were much lower than initially anticipated for the traditional peak season. Passenger data of the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) show that international passenger travel at the Cape Town International Airport in December was a mere 19% of December 2019 volumes. Aircraft were operating at only 51% of their passenger load factors (compared to 72% in December 2019).

The domestic terminal at Cape Town International Airport saw only 51% of the volume of travellers compared with December 2019. 

STR, a company that provides market data on the hotel industry, reports hotel occupancy levels in the Western Cape were at 32.7% in December 2020, compared to 68.1% in December 2019. 

Vehicle counts nationally indicate that there was a reduction in the number of overland domestic travellers during the season. Traffic volumes decreased by up to 27% on South Africa’s major highways.  

“With the announcement of hotspots and beach closures in December, coastal towns saw immediate cancellations from domestic markets. A survey by NightsBridge, conducted after the announcement of the Garden Route as a hotspot, found that one-third of guesthouses on the Garden Route indicated at least 50% of festive season cancellations.  The same study reported that 12.7% of bookings in the Western Cape were cancelled,” said the minister.  

These reports not only show the precarious situation of the tourism and hospitality industry, but also the impact of the restrictions on the economy in the Western Cape.  

“As we know from the most recent South Africa Tourism Survey (December 2020), 58% of tourism and hospitality businesses were unable to service their debts and 61% of businesses were unable to cover fixed costs in October 2020. This was before the Alert Level 3 restrictions were announced in December.  

“I will write to the Minister of Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, calling for the immediate easing of restriction in respect of the curfew, the closure of beaches and the onsite consumption of liquor in restaurants and similar establishments, as well as allowing the tasting and selling of liquor at wineries and wine farms. I have also written to the Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi, to urgently extend the UIF Covid-19 TERS scheme for the duration of the Level 3 restrictions to assist businesses and employees who have been impacted by the restrictions,” Maynier said. 

Provincial head of Health, Dr Keith Cloete, said that there had been a significant decrease in the number of active cases, hospitalisations, and deaths. Active cases have seen a 33% drop in the last 7 days.

Cloete said that it only made sense for restrictions to be eased. “The restrictions that we asked for as the Western Cape government was to specifically bring relief to the healthcare system towards the end of December and beginning of January to be able to cope with the cases.”

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