After President Cyril Ramaphosa's teleconference engagement with stakeholders in the tourism sector it is clear that the industry needs to reopen before September or faces massive job losses.
Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane says that her department is working with the sector to put in place protocols for a safe return to work.
Tourism sector set for job losses
According to estimates, a failure to reopen the sector in some capacity by September could see 600,000 jobs lost.
South Africa's tourist industry is not alone in facing extreme challenges with global travel grinding to a halt under the conditions of lockdowns and stay at home orders the world over.
Kubayi-Ngubane's department established a R200 million fund to help keep businesses operational, with grants capped at an amount of R50 000. The fund has been hampered by a legal challenge brought about by decision to apply broad-based BEE (B-BBEE) criteria to allocation of the fund. Union Solidarity took government to court but the Gauteng High Court dismissed their application in April.
The challenge the industry faces is that tourism relies heavily on interaction between people which significantly increases the risk of transmission of disease.
"We had to work around the clock to try and improve the protocols and the safety, to assure everybody that is working – including the Department of Health – that as a sector we would be responsible and able to assist in ensuring that we don't spread the virus," Kubayi-Ngubane told Radio 702.
We talk about the accommodation, the need for travelling, inter-provincial movement, the request for restaurants… all those were presented to the president… the operating of casinos… We shared how that would be in terms of practicality if you are to do social distancing.
Clear as mud
Despite the consultations providing both government and the tourism industry with important feedback, it remains unclear which areas of the sector might open up first.
"It's quite frightening. That's why our concern is to say: Let's see what we can do to get the sector back on track.
"Quite a number of the issues were already presented to the NCCC (National Coronavirus Command Council) by us as the department, so the president was aware of the issues and could guide in terms of broad principles what is and what is not possible, also the issues of what can be done and the value chain," Kubayi-Ngubane noted.
"One of the concerns the president raised in the meeting was if we open too much fast, for example the issue of transport – we have a system that is a bit of a challenge where if all sectors [not only tourism] come into full operation, it means the trains will go back to being packed, the buses being packed. Will social distancing be possible?"
The minister conceded that the R200 million relief fund was not adequate to prevent job losses in the sector.
"It was acknowledged yesterday that the money is not sufficient for the [tourism] sector, so we would want to see more operation of activities so they can come back to being self-sustainable," Kubayi-Ngubane added.