South Africans choose campsites and caravan parks over hotels for lockdown leisure
- Campsites and caravan parks have seen a steady influx of visitors since South Africa moved to Level 2 lockdown.
- Hotels and guesthouses, which rely heavily on international tourism, are still counting devastating losses.
- National Parks Week and extended discounted accommodation rates are expected to draw more camping visitors during the festive season.
- Hotels, which recorded a 15.9% occupancy rate in September, are locked in a bitter legal battle with insurers to stay afloat.
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After months spent cooped up at home due to stringent coronavirus restrictions, South Africans have opted to explore the great outdoors as opposed to overnight stays at hotels and guesthouses. While the tourism industry, one of the greatest economic casualties of Covid-19, struggles as international travel remains slow, local campsites and caravan parks are recovering at a better rate.
Tourism data released by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), which analyses accommodation revenue and occupancy rates, paints a grim picture. Total income generated by hotels, caravan parks, camping sites and guesthouses, dropped by 72.9% in September 2020 compared to the previous year.
Revenue losses incurred during the third quarter of 2020 represent an 81.8% drop, with total income from tourism accommodation barely passing the R1 billion mark.
The results of September’s tourism survey clearly show South Africa’s reliance on international visitors.
Interprovincial travel reopened in August and while some guesthouses and hotel chains have attempted to attract local guests by offering discounts, South Africans have chosen to shake off the lockdown-induced cabin fever by escaping the confines of four walls.
In September, caravan parks and camping sites held an occupancy rate of 17.6%, with total yearly income dipping 41.9%. Only 15.9% of hotels rooms were occupied, with income down 74.8% compared to 2019. Campsites and caravan parks are nearer to 2019 occupancy rates of 32%, while hotels remain comparatively empty, far from the 54.4% occupancy recorded last September.
Guesthouse and farmhouse operators, many lacking the resources to implement social distancing and sanitisation protocols, reported dismally low occupancy rates of 8.5% and income declines of more than 70%.
This trend is likely to continue as the traditional surge of seasonal visitors slows to a trickle. A quicker recovery in camping sites and caravan parks, which have been less reliant on international visitors, has been hastened by the South African National Parks’ (SANParks) efforts.
A week-long campaign, extending from Monday 16 November to Sunday 22 November, allowed visitors free access to 21 national parks. Additionally, SANParks slashed December accommodation rates by a third. Online reservations for accommodation and camping at selected national parks, from Sunday 29 November until Thursday 10 December, will be discounted.
The recent reopening of international borders and scrapping of the controversial ‘banned’ list is likely to see a slow but steady uptick in South Africa’s embattled hotel industry.
“While we know that there won’t an immediate influx of tourists as other countries are now experiencing second waves of the pandemic and have imposed travel restrictions for their citizens, we look forward to welcoming those tourists that are able to come,” commented SA Tourism’s Chief Executive Officer, Sisa Ntshona.
As the tourism industry attempts to recover from the coronavirus-induced lockdown, hoping to capitalise on increased global travel in 2021, a bitter legal battle between hotels and insurance agencies is playing out at the High Court. According to Insurance Claims Africa (IAC), more than 750 hotels and stakeholders in the hospitality industry are fighting to have losses incurred during lockdown reimbursed by insurance companies.
Rosemary Anderson, chairperson of Fedhasa (Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa), noted that without insurers honouring their obligations, recovery in the tourism industry would be set back. "Fedhasa urges insurers to do the right thing and stem the devastating losses the hospitality sector will still incur as it gets back on its feet, by paying what is rightfully due,” said Anderson.
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