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Re-opening the travel sector: How tourism SMMEs can prepare

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3 min read

The government’s risk-adjusted approach to reopening the economy has not been kind to the travel and tourism industry. Currently, as it stands, travel and tourism will, in the main, only return in Alert Level 1.

There is, however, a lot of work going on behind the scenes. The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) has released a statement urging for an earlier reopening of borders for inbound tourism, citing both the need for a data-driven response – and the sector’s readiness to reopen the inbound market in a safe and health-focussed manner from as early as September 2020.

According to their statement, the TBCSA’s approach would see an initial 6-8 week preparation phase, followed by a trial stage (welcoming visitors from safe source markets) and a measured reopening until a point where air access is fully open and South African can finally restart its longer term growth strategy.

If the lobbying pays off, the South African tourism industry needs to be prepared. But how do tourism SMMEs, particularly smaller enterprises, get ready to go?

Here are three ways to prepare:

 1.  Get visible

It’s now just over seventy days since the start of South Africa’s hard lockdown – but it feels like a lifetime. It’s been challenging for small businesses to ‘stay visible’ and their communication has largely been focussed on negotiating refunds, cancellations, information and crisis management.

However, it’s important to stay top of mind – keeping in mind that it’s much harder (and more expensive) to disappear and then come back.

One way to stay visible is to make sure your establishment or service features an online  booking platform, making it easy for aspiring travellers to book.

Dr. Nomvuselelo Songelwa, Jurni Chief Executive Officer, says that South Africa has a wealth of tourism operators, products and services just waiting to be discovered. “Often SMMEs struggle to connect with local and international markets. The Jurni booking tool not only bridges the gap – but also facilitates enquiries, bookings and payment,” says Songelwa.

Many of the legacy booking tools are expensive, making them inaccessible to the smaller tourism players. It is for this reason that Jurni developed an affordable booking tool that allows businesses to:

  • Update their message, rates or special offers
  • Manage booking requests and changes
  • Manage customer communication and feedback
  • Manage confirmations and payments

SMMEs

2.  Get connected

Tourism SMMEs should also join industry associations like NAA-SA, SATSA, FEDHASA, SAVRALA and all those associated with the Tourism Business Council of South Africa.

Songelwa believes that not only are these bodies an invaluable source of information, but they also provide their members with the resources they need in order to respond to traveller questions – and to stay on top of a dynamic, ever-changing situation.

“Keeping in touch with experts in the travel industry – and other members – will make you feel less alone. Don’t be scared to reach out for support, that is what they are there for. Network, learn and stay connected.”

SMMEs

3.  Get compliant

Beyond access and visibility, health and safety will be one of the biggest challenges facing SMMEs over the next few months.

Songelwa says that health and safety is going to remain a primary driver – especially when it comes to choosing hotels and holidays destinations. Travellers need to feel safe, and tourism establishments will need to ensure that they can guarantee a worry-free stay or experience.

There are plenty of resources available, for example, the World Health Organization (WHO) has put together a comprehensive set of guidelines, as have the TBSCA (you can access the protocols here), while the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has unveiled new protocols it believes will lead to the restarting of the travel and tourism sector worldwide – even offering a ‘Safe Travels’ guarantee for any organisation that complies with their measures and standards.

SMMEs need to spend the next few weeks wisely, concentrating on visibility, information and preparation.

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