KZN IS SAFE FOR TRAVEL
WORDS AND IMAGES: LESLEY VAN DUFFELEN
“KwaZulu-Natal is safe for travel, ZWAKALA!” This is the message that Tourism KwaZulu-Natal (TKZN) has taken across the province over the past two weeks as it promoted holiday travel in the province, and encouraged tourists and locals to vaccinate.
Speaking at the close of the of the eighth leg of the campaign in Pietermaritzburg, MEC for Economic Development Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Ravi Pillay said that just as the tourism sector was starting to recover, the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 dealt it another blow.
“The past two months have been difficult with the outbreak of Omicron and the knee-jerk reaction by countries that put South Africa on a travel red list. Although these countries have since reversed their decision, the damage has already been done,” he said.
The World Travel & Tourism Council estimated that the South African economy lost about R790 million a month in visitor spend while being on the UK’s red list.
Nonetheless, KZN’s focus has been on the domestic market as it understood the impact of restricted international travel. Domestic holiday cancellations were exceptionally low which demonstrated that their strategy to intensify domestic tourism marketing was working. The slightly higher number of cancellations from international travelers was expected, given the cancellation or delays of international flights or the implementation of red zoning.
Since the easing of Covid-19 restrictions KwaZulu-Natal has seen a steady increase in domestic travel into the province from Gauteng and local KZN residents which are main source markets. Early tourist spending patterns suggest that the tourism contribution to the KZN GDP is estimated to be in the region on R1.9 billion.
“We are pleased to report that tourism ticked up towards December 16, eased off and built up again towards the Christmas weekend. According to the latest statistics, in eThekwini and parts of the Drakensberg occupancy rates were as high as 80% over the Christmas weekend and, we are positive that this trend will continue into the New Year’s weekend,” he said.
The confidence that is needed to do this depends on how we defeat Covid-19, or at least manage it effectively, and the vaccination programme is key to that. We must confront those who spread fake news and those who run the anti-vaccination campaigns not backed by any science. On the other hand, we recognise that there is a genuine hesitancy among some people. Therefore, we must have a clear message backed by science that vaccinations are safe, necessary and in the best interest for everyone.”
Since December 17 TKZN, in its big yellow branded bus has travelled from St. Lucia and Richards Bay to KwaDukuza, Kokstad, Margate Main beach, Newcastle Mall, Ladysmith ending at Liberty Midlands Mall in Pietermaritzburg.
Traveling from town to town across the province in a big yellow bus, Tourism KwaZulu-Natal has been spreading the travel word and running a vaccination programme with the Department of Health, which uses the bus as a vaccination station.
“Spreading the message about being vaccinated is critical not only for tourism but for the economy. Reviving the provincial economy and creating jobs for young people is the number one priority,” said Pillay.
Pillay paid tribute to the tourism sector and the private sector for their resilience and ability respond to the challenges. The key message of the TKZN campaign is that KwaZulu-Natal is safe for travel but, a second message is: “Get vaccinated.”
Mpho Mbuli, TKZN General Manager Marketing, added: “The campaign came into being as we sought to promote our summer, the province as a destination, our products and infuse it with a vaccination drive, working closely with the Department of Health which is managing the process. We are saying KZN is safe for travel, and we are backing it up with our vaccination drive.
“While we promote tourism, we encourage our frontline workers, visitors, and locals to please save tourism, themselves and their families and come and get vaccinated with us and join us in our campaign,” she said.
As the big yellow traveling vaccination station went from destination to destination the numbers of people who were vaccinated increased as the information spread. In Margate at the main beach, over 30 people took the jab and, in Ladysmith, 51 people.
“Every-time people see the yellow bus, they know we are coming with the department of health and vaccinating,” said Mbuli.
KZN Premier Mr Sihle Zikalala will release preliminary tourism figures on 1 January 2021. While these will not be final figures, they will be a good indicator of what could be expected when the final tally is presented at the end of the season.