Tourism prepares for new norm as reopening looms

Major tourist attraction venues are gearing up to start operating as the country battles the coronavirus outbreak.

The tourism sector was brought to a standstill when the government began restricting travel into the country and between provinces. When the national lockdown came into effect on March 27, the sector was brought to its knees and thousands of workers faced an uncertain future.

Now, tourism has to prepare for the new norm as it anticipates that the government will ultimately allow the sector to reopen, but under very stringent regulations.

Sowetan spoke to owners of two of Gauteng's biggest entertainment venues on how they are preparing for a new norm which the tourism sector will face when the government allows it to open doors to visitors.

Co-owner of Happy Island Tim Higins, said the strategy is to first introduce new infrastructure at the entrance. This will include scanner cameras capable of scanning up to 30 individuals simultaneously.

"The solution will alert security of individuals with abnormal temperatures, but at the same time deny boom gate access unless cleared by the security on duty," Higins said.

Walk-through sanitising booths will also be introduced.

"All our offices, restaurants and bathrooms will be kitted out with hand and foot sanitisers at entry and exit points and surfaces will be covered in an antimicrobial film called Purezone, an international acclaimed product that self-disinfects for a period of up to five years. We are the African distributor of this product," Higins said.

Furthermore, random temperature screening points will be set up and manned by a health and safety team.

The team will be trained on Covid-19 regulations and supplied with personal protective equipment with supervisors monitoring their performance.

Higins said the facility will be opened in a phased approach in line with the government regulations.

"Phase one will be our 'Drive-In' experience based on the old drive-in concept. We envisage having live on stage performances, but the guests remain in their vehicles, the logistics around food, drinks and ablutions will be executed in line with the government regulations.

"Phase two, which will probably be in October [should circumstances permit], entails the reopening of only slides as it's possible to enforce social distancing when queueing, constantly disinfect the staircases and limit the number of people per slide. Phase three will be the reopening of the wavepool - this will happen in the unforeseen future," Higins said.

Happy Island currently employs 200 workers. On peak season it sees 8,000 people a day and during off peak, about 3,500 visit the facility.

Higins said the business has already suffered huge loses due to the pandemic.

"We've suffered huge financial losses due to the lockdown, but we value lives more than revenue, however, as a business, we have to generate income in order to remain afloat," he said.

He said they have applied for all government relief funds but were yet to receive assistance.

Even the plans to open a hotel facility have also been put on ice.

Sun International, which owns venues and hotels such as Sun City resort in the North West, Boardwalk in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, Carnival City on the East Rand and Flamingo Casino in Kimberley, Northern Cape, is also preparing for the new norm.

Graham Wood, COO of hospitality at Sun International said the group used the lockdown period to evaluate the risks posed by Covid-19 to customers, staff and business partners. A process then began to mitigate against the risks that were identified.

"In order for hotels to open earlier on level 3, we need air travel to resume earlier, as well as the lifting of the interprovincial travel restrictions. We also believe that our casinos can open at level 3 as our hygiene and social distancing protocols have taken social distancing and health and hygiene concerns into account," he said.

To ensure social distancing, Wood said the following would be implemented:

On the casino floor, every second seat at slot machine banks has already been removed and tables will be limited to four players only. Only holders of most valued guest (MVG) loyalty cards will be permitted onto our casino floor to allow for and tracking and traceability of casino customers;

Eating capacity at dining, conferencing and meeting areas has been reduced and will remain in line with government guidelines for social distancing.

Approximately 9,500 people are employed at Sun International.

Wood said by early March, Sun International introducing social distancing in its properties.

"We will be reducing capacities in our hotels, resorts and casinos...," he said.

Wood said Sun International has paid over R2m to the Solidarity Fund, after more than 15,000 MVG members pledged their leisure points for this purpose.

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