Domestic Travel. It has been a tough year for people in the hospitality and service industry in South Africa, with changing lockdown regulations providing little relief to people working in hotels, restaurants and lodges.

Guy Stehlik, CEO of BON Hotels, believes that the hospitality sector will continue to achieve growth if businesses adapt to newly-formed markets and cater to a different wave of customers with different needs.

“With international travel a possibility only in 2021, quick adaptation needs to be made for local travel. Instead of appealing to the European or Asian markets, we need to localise our efforts and constantly gauge the interest of domestic travellers in terms of how soon and how far they are willing to travel once bans on leisure travel are fully lifted,” he said.

Stehlik said the industry needed to make its products and services to the South African traveller.

“We need to ask pertinent questions, like are our rates something that people can afford right now? For example, will it be affordable for those who suffered financial hardship during the pandemic, but still want to get away and enjoy a break? It’s my opinion that many hotel groups and other accommodation providers may lower their rates to open up the local industry further, to ensure that the communities around them are more inclined to book a night’s stay or a weekend getaway,” he said.

However, Stehlik notes that discount anything by more than the “magic 30 percent” often portrays the product badly and potential customers do not take the offering, thinking that there is something wrong with the product.

“For the next six months or until international tourists return, and taking for granted that our provincial borders are reopened for domestic travel, we need SA travellers to immerse themselves in the incredible offerings that will be out there and become what I call ’Revenge Tourists’ in their own country.

“Discounts, upgrades and incredible value for money will be the order of the day for the next year. We also recently saw one of Cape Town’s top luxury offerings announce the launch of a new restaurant. These kinds of innovations, restaurant experiences, spa experiences, etc., will be pivotal for the survival of tourism.

“Now is the time for hotels who rely heavily on income from the business sector to ensure that their conference and meeting offerings have adapted fully to the requirements of lockdown regulations. Companies will slowly return to face-to-face meetings and providing competitive rates and excellent, reliable service is non-negotiable. While all of these will boost our tourism industry in the coming months, it will not be enough to cover the devastating loss of income from international travel. But perhaps this may be a turning point for travel and hospitality in South Africa,” he added.

The rate debate

Stehlik emphasised that many travellers cannot afford the rates at which South African accommodation currently sits.

“It is well known that many young travellers opt for international trips to places like Bali and Thailand, simply because it is more affordable than travelling within their own country – not because they aren’t interested in local travel. So this is a market we need to attract.

“With travel becoming more and more accessible, it is time for a monumental effort for us to build on our local tourism even more, and push towards growth in this way,” said Stehlik.

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