SA tourism business struggles to hold on with few tourists in sight
ONE of Cape Town’s highest rated restaurants may close its doors after receiving just one reservation in 2021 so far.
“It’s pointless for me to wait and wait and wait,” said Mbasa Siyaka, the owner of Mzansi Restaurant. “I don’t know when this pandemic will end and when people are likely to start traveling.”
Many South Africans in the tourism industry are facing the same dilemma as Siyaka. Business owners and employees are losing money month after month as hopes for the recovery are delayed in the face of travel restrictions related to the “South African” Covid-19 variant, limited support from the government, and major airlines cancelling routes to and from the country.
“Currently, I am sitting with a zero, a minus, in my bank account,” Siyaka said. Contrast this to one year ago, when he had long term plans to turn Mzansi into a franchise.
Mzansi is located in the historical town of Langa and was founded in 2008 after Siyaka’s late grandmother approached his mother with an idea: a place where tourists can enjoy a traditional home cooked South African meal while listening to African music. When Mbasa’s mother was diagnosed with stage four cancer in 2018, he took over the family business. Today, Mzansi ranks between #1 and 2 on Tripadvisor for the best restaurant in Cape Town.
This has been a great disaster for all of us in the tourism industry,” said Patrick Hanratty, managing director and owner of Mmilo Tours, a small online tourism company based out of Pretoria that offers safari, city and nature tours.
“I was looking forward to retiring to Cape Town but now I think I am going to probably have to stay active for another five years.”
Hanratty receives approximately 10 percent the inquiries he received prior to the pandemic. From January to March of 2021, he received 10 inquiries in total, an average of three a month. This is a large decline from his usual 50 inquiries a month. Due to decreased demand, he’s had to furlough many of his workers, many of whom were freelance tour guides.
Anton Joubert, who has been a tour guide for Mmilo for 10 years, has had to dip into his pension fund to make ends meet. “I had to sell nuts and dried fruit… one guy is selling coffee on street corners to make a living.”
In mid-2020, businesses in the tourism industry received grants from the South African government. Mbasa received 50 000 ZAR ($3,445) and some tour guides like Anton received 4 000 ZAR each ($275).
“That money was finished within a month,” said Mbasa. He shared a majority of the grant with his staff members. “We bought food parcels in bulk, gave them money for electricity, and that was it. There was nothing more that we could have done.”
The grants they received were a part of the first pillar of South Africa’s tourism recovery plan. According to CEO of South Africa Tourism Sisa Ntshona, the three pillars include protecting the supply side by injecting financial support, reigniting demand, and creating an enabling environment.