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Tourism showing signs of recovery post Covid-19 restrictions, says Sisulu

Tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu says global tourism is slowly rebounding.
Tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu says global tourism is slowly rebounding.

The tourism industry is on a recovery path after the Covid-19 imposed lockdowns, says minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

Delivering the tourism department’s budget on Thursday, Sisulu said global tourism was slowly rebounding, with international tourist arrivals in the country up 4% in 2021, a sign that the industry is recovering and expected to get back to pre-Covid-19 levels.

“The outlook for 2022 is better,  though opinion is split on whether the  rebound will take place in 2022 or 2023,” Sisulu said.

“The UN World Trade Organisation (UNWTO) expectation is that international arrivals will return to 2019 levels only in 2024 or later.”

Tourism contributes billions to the local economy which was lost as the industry was one of the hardest by the pandemic that resulted in worldwide lockdowns, more especially when the country was placed on a “red list” by many countries.

SA experienced declines in international arrivals last year of a whopping 78% compared with 2019 arrivals.

“According to Airports Company SA (Acsa), air travel to and from SA has reached its highest levels of activity since the start of the pandemic — almost 2.3-million passengers through OR Tambo, Cape Town and Durban in March — up 70% from the previous year,” she said.

“Recovery is being bolstered by international arrivals. Cape Town International Airport's total passenger activity has increased to 66% of levels seen in the first quarter of 2019. January and February this year saw strong growth in arrivals from the UK, Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Switzerland — 549% up in 2022 vs 2021 from our top 10 source markets (according to Stats SA).” 

Sisulu said the department was working around the clock to resolve legal issues delaying the implementation of the tourism equity fund aimed at transforming the industry. The fund had been announced by her predecessor, Mmamoloko Kubayi.

The fund has been challenged in court by Solidarity and AfriForum arguing that it was illegal because it did not get the go-ahead from the department of trade, industry and competition.

They argued that the criteria used to identify recipients of the R1.2bn fund was also racially biased as only businesses with 51% black ownership are eligible to apply.

“We will continue to work with interested parties to resolve this matter.  We have no doubt that the sector shares our eagerness to see this matter resolved considering the number of applications received after the fund was launched. A clear indicator that the facility has very high demand,” Sisulu said.

“The tourism equity fund will offer capital investment in the form of grant funding to black-owned tourism enterprises. An amount of R360m over the medium term is allocated to the fund to support an estimated 31 tourism enterprises. Twenty of these, or 65%, will be women-owned enterprises.

“Part of our effort will include a strong focus on developing the viability of women-owned businesses. This is to say, we are not looking for viable businesses in a world we know doesn’t recognise the work of women as even remotely viable. Our work must be to drive the recognition of women businesses as viable.”

The recent floods in KZN have affected the industry, causing an estimated damage to tourism infrastructure of R100m.

“The department will be supporting the provinces in restoring damaged tourism infrastructure, to the extent that the budget allows. To this end, the department will engage with the National Treasury regarding possible options for support. 

“What has been encouraging is that most private businesses are indicating that, in the main, they require the government to speed up the rebuilding of enabling public infrastructure as their facilities are adequately insured. The department will use its framework agreement with the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) to undertake more detailed technical assessments of the work that needs to be done, as well as costing,” Sisulu said.

The DA's Manuel de Freitas said the government was not doing anything to help the tourism industry and that it was growing on its own and not because of the government.

“It was embarrassing to listen to the minister tell our portfolio committee this week about how so many great achievements have been reached by her government. This is as delusional as believing stilettos can be worn with a military uniform,” De Freitas said

He laid the blame of SA being kept on red lists last year on the doorsteps of the government, saying the countries did that as there were no guarantees that SA would not be taken back to a hard lockdown at any moment.

This, he said, led to the loss of more than R7bn last year alone.

The EFF’s Lorato Tito said they were rejecting Sisulu’s proposed budget because the department was caught in the crossfire of the fight between the minister and President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Sisulu was moved to the department of tourism in August 2021 when Ramaphosa made several changes to his cabinet. It was believed that the move also had to do with Sisulu considering challenging Ramaphosa at the ANC’s elective conference in December.

“She was not moved to the department to help the struggling industry. To help Ramaphosa she was given a portfolio that is less important,” Tito said. “As a result, our people who own B&Bs, small hotels and restaurants lost their livelihoods.”


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