At the end of the third quarter last year, South Africa recorded a high unemployment rate of 27.5%. Townships and informal settlements are at the helm of this problem where the youth lack resources to even apply for jobs.
A young, unemployed man crosses a busy street on 12th Avenue.
Dragging a greasy trolley filled with trash, he looks at us blankly as he continues to lug his garbage to the nearest junkyard.
It is a regular sight and a regular weekday on the streets of Alexandra, eight kilometers from Africa’s richest square mile, Sandton, in South Africa.
Sixteen-seater minibus-taxis dash from corner to corner, packing their vehicles with enough passengers before making their way out of the township.
It is 10.30AM on this sunny Wednesday morning in December.
The street corners are adorned with colorful tuckshops; they stand out against the backdrop of the grey homes around them.
One of the spaza shops is bright blue with light textures of yellow paint; a man sits behind a mesh by the sales counter. It is almost impossible to see his face.
He offers a young man a cigarette via a peep hole through the mesh.
Three men gather to smoke the same cigarette before making their way to the multi-purpose community center on the other side of the road.
Each carrying a sling bag and an A4 envelope, they disappear into a building located at the end of a twirling staircase. Young and old ceaselessly walk in and out.
The yard is filled with a number of service centers: the local clinic, revenue service offices, the post office, multiple internet shops and the Youth Advisory Centre (YAC).
At the end of the hallway, Themba Mafuya sits collecting dozens of résumés from the eager youth who are desperately in search of employment.
He gathers the pile of documents and hands it over to his assistant.
“People are hungry for jobs,” he says as he looks at the unending stream of visitors walking in and out of the center.
Mafuya’s institution creates a database of unemployed youth within the community with the sole purpose of collaborating with companies that are looking to hire.
By working closely with government, YAC reports to the City of Johannesburg on the state of unemployment in the community.
Dressed in casual wear, the 29-year-old has a friendly and positive approach when he advises potential employees.
“Go and correct the mistakes on your résumé that I explained to you. Make sure your documents are certified and bring it to me as soon as possible. Don’t worry, they will hire you,” he tells a young lady.
With Gauteng province being the economic powerhouse of South Africa, contributing 35% to the country’s GDP, according to recent figures released by Stats SA, unemployment remains an area of concern – 29.6% of people live in the province without jobs.
But the province is not among the lowest performing in the country. With an unemployment rate of 36.6%, the Free State has the highest provincial unemployment rate according to StatsSA, in 2018.
Limpopo, with a prominent rural population, surprisingly, has an unemployment rate of 18.9%, making it the lowest in the country.
Townships in the surrounding areas of Gauteng are still faced with an influx of challenges relating to unemployment.
Adding to the lack of jobs, social issues play a big part.
“We need to start doing follow-ups. Ask how many youth have been employed? Who are not employed? Why are they not employed? Maybe they do not have a correct résumé and we need to figure out why the employees do not choose them,” says Mafuya.
Just a few streets away is a compound adjacent to a block of fading pink apartments.
The yard is divided by a muddy passage with small dwellings on either side.
A smell lingers far beyond the cracks of the cement block as two buckets get noisly filled with hot water to clean chicken.
Alfredah Phuloane introduces herself after she wipes the chicken remnants off her hands using her multi-colored t-shirt.
With Phuloane is her uncle Velile Ndlovu who is her business partner.
“As long as I have chicken, they are going. If I have 55, all of them will be bought. I’ve already sold 25 for the day and we have just started,” she says.
A helper, who didn’t want to be named, gushes: “I love my job and I am proud of it.”
She too, like the 27.5% of the South African population who are unemployed, will celebrate any job that will help them put food on the table.
In 2018, StatsSA announced an increase in the unemployment rate at the end of the third quarter.
According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey, there are 16.4 million employed people and 6.2 million unemployed people between the ages of 15 and 64 years in South Africa.
The latest figures record that the number of unemployed people in South Africa grew by 127,000 from the 6.08 million in the previous quarter.
StatsSA Statistician-General, Risenga Maluleke, says unemployment, according to the statistics collected, is calculated using the 4×4 rule.
These are job-seekers in search of employment four days a week in a four-week period.
Phuloane, who has been unemployed for three years, took the iniatitive to start the business when she realized there was a demand for freshly-slaughtered chicken in her community.
“At the time, when we were slaughtering the chicken for our own consumption, some people were coming in and asking if we were selling them. That is when we realized people needed chicken,” Ndlovu laughs.
Ndlovu leaves the compound at 4.30AM to stand in a long queue in Linbro Park where he buys the live chickens.
On his return, at around 7AM, he places the fowl in a makeshift coop.
With the helper, who earns a sum of money for her assistance, the trio spend the day processing and packaging chicken for customers.
Three years of unemployment led Phuloane, a former domestic worker, to entrepreneurship.
“If my business does succeed, I want to hire those who do not have jobs. I want to make their lives simple. They can start their own businesses then, because you can’t wait for work. There are no jobs now and it will be difficult,” Phuloane says.
Her uncle on the other hand, who worked as a recycler in a recycling company, decided to quit his job in late 2018.
When Ndlovu rejected a job transfer to South Africa’s capital Pretoria, it suddenly made him one of the thousands without employment.
The formal sector recorded job losses of 65,000 people, and agriculture lost 1,000 employees in the third quarter of last year.
Without the promise of an increase, had he accepted the job in Pretoria, Ndlovu’s expenses would have increased by $111 to travel 41 kilometers to the north eastern part of Johannesburg.
He decided to quit.
“We realized that there is a big opportunity in the township. We are trying by all means to not rely on anyone. We can take our children to school. No one will suffer if they think about starting a business,” he says.
Social engineer Action Setaka, from the organization ACTIVATE! Change Drivers (ACD), who advocates for the unemployed, says there is a copious amount of injustice hampering access to employment.
It is even worse in the townships.
ACD is a network of young people interested in driving change for the public good of the country through innovation and activism.
For Setaka, unemployment has become a commodity for business and institutions to exploit those desperately in search of work.
From the seemlingly endless amount of documentation required when applying for governmental posts, to the costs of printing and accessing the internet at internet cafés, money is required.
It does not end there.
“Transportation costs for traveling to interviews; posting of résumés cost money, which benefits the internet cafés; data to browse job opportunities and mobile networks make money out of this. Searching for employment requires money, yet you find people who claim that our young people are lazy and, therefore, they are not prepared to find work,” Setaka says.
The dire plight of the jobless youth in Alexandra is not in isolation.
Similar circumstances reverbarate throughout the townships of South Africa.
Another township, much like Alexandra, with compounds filled with shacks, is swarming with people seeking jobs for survival.
Located in the northern part of Johannesburg, Diepsloot has the highest concentration of unemployed people in Gauteng.
This is according to the Gauteng City-Regional Observatory (GCRO)’s Mapping Unemployment publication, released in August 2018.
The location, established in 1994, has grown into a community with a population of more than 160,000 with an estimate of “24,737 shacks alongside more than 5,000 formal housing units, such as RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) houses, self-built houses on serviced sites, and a small number of bank-financed houses,” as quoted in Diepsloot, a brochure compiled by the Johannesburg Development Agency.
Based on the StatsSA 2011 census, the GCRO map shows the concentration of unemployed people in areas that had rates worse than the provincial median in 2011.
According to GCRO statistics, “the square kilometer areas with the highest concentration of unemployed people are observed in townships such as Alexandra and Diepsloot and contain 4,965 and 8,758 people”.
Diepsloot’s South African Youth Project (SAYP) general manager, Clifford Legodi, says gaining access to employment for unemployed youth in townships is harder than it is for youth who grow up in urban regions. This points to a system exclusion due to the lack of access to resources.
Thus, the development programs that will meet the demands of the working environment will, in turn, open up opportunities.
It starts with breaking norms.
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“Young black people or previously disadvantaged communities are still using the traditional method of taking a taxi, printing a résumé or going to the offices. We felt that it was important to incorporate an online skills program. You look at their online presence. How they apply for a job online. Are they actually keeping a good online profile and how to secure opportunities in time?” Legodi says.
SAYP is a youth development organization aimed at the empowerment of young people by giving them the skillsets to utilize the opportunities around them.
This is done through the ‘Power Through Jobs’ program offered by the non-profit.
Life skills, work-readiness, and getting a job are some of the main points of focus for the youth of the township.
Online job-searching skills have been implemented in order to keep up with the evolving working environment.
Through encouragement and continuous skills development, Legodi says the notion of staying in one position will fade away, and the youth of Diepsloot will aspire to climb the corporate ladder.
“If they can conduct themselves in a professional manner, they will gain credibility,” he says.
The population is dominated by black people and for Legodi, the lack of opportunities within their reach means that those who are able find employment will have to travel long distances to get to work.
“Diepsloot has its own reputation that is quite limiting for young people to get opportunities out there.
“The media also has a bit of an influence, bad news sells. A lot of the things you see are about the crime, but everyone is treated equally within the community,” he says.
“The mistake we have been making in the past when it comes to addressing unemployment, is that we tried to develop a program that put everyone in the same box. We tend to forget that people come from different geographical locations and they are exposed to different lifestyles.”
Twenty-nine-year-old Thapelo Tau sits in a living room watching television.
It is noon and he is catching up on his favorite shows in the home he shares with his mother and two sisters.
“I have been unemployed for five or six years. It has been difficult to look for work. Many people here give up and they just sit at home and watch television,” he says.
He spends most of his time on his phone and reading.
“You may take your documents to look for work, but when you leave, they tear it up. We just give up because there is nothing we can do. I have an uncle who has been looking for work for a long time. He just stopped looking,” Tau says.
When approached for comment, the uncle dismisses the interview in vernacular.
“We are looking for work. We can’t even speak English,” he says.
English is widely considered the language of access in this nation where there are 11 official langages. Those who can’t speak the language are almost always immediately excluded from public participation.
“The problem that we have seen with people from townships is self-confidence. They get afraid when they have to leave their comfort space. They then need to present themselves in a different way, they have to adjust to a different lifestyle to showcase an approach,” says Legodi.
Afri-Berry founder and director, Relobohile Moeng, says the language barrier is one of the biggest challenges for the youth in the townships. Going the extra mile for an intern who lacked verbal communication skills, she offered mentorship and guidance. “The confidence part I had to build in, as her mentor,” attests Moeng.
Townships have the undying potential to contribute greatly to the country’s aggregate economic growth; this can be achieved only if the high populations are granted the opportunity to play their part in the economy. Alexandra and Diepsloot are testament to the facts.
In the interim, Ndlovu, much like the rest of the unemployed population, strives against all odds, hoping against hope to continue to put food on his own table whilst feeding his community.
Op-Ed: The eCommerce Lifeboat For South Africa’s Retail Industry
Covid-19 led eCommerce revolution
The Covid-19 crisis has redefined the retail playing field. This has seen retailers scrambling to accommodate changed consumer behaviour as shopping surges online.
The pandemic has exposed the precariousness of a solely bricks and mortar model. According to a recent report by McKinsey, consumers expect a relative shift to online shopping in most categories in the short term, driven primarily by a sharp decrease in in-store shopping. In the longer term, 40 percent of consumers plan to increase online shopping once the crisis is over.
Fear of infection drives move to online
“Previous epidemics have foreshadowed this online trend,” says Derek Cikes, Commercial Director at buy now pay later fintech, Payflex.
“The SARS epidemic in 2003 expedited China’s path in launching digital payments and eCommerce in the country, creating a permanent shift in consumer behaviour. Similarly, the Coronavirus has caused a marked change in South Africa’s consumer behaviour and habits, with social distancing, hygiene measures and self-quarantine now integral parts of our everyday realities,” says Cikes.
With the crisis expected to remain for the foreseeable future, these behaviours are anticipated to become further entrenched and remain even as the crisis eventually ebbs.
Shopping: an altered reality
Shopping is no longer a leisurely, sensory-filled experience. Instead, retailers have replaced sampling of beauty items or delightful food temptations with an antibacterial touch averse world of hand sanitizers and plexiglass barriers.
This interaction or rather fear of interaction is driving new shopping behaviour, with consumers opting for the safety and convenience of eCommerce. And retailers are hastening to adapt to what they view as lasting changes in the way that people choose to shop as millions of consumers choose online as their preferred medium of shopping.
Epidemics’ impact on retail
According to a Global Shopping Index published by Salesforce, the number of unique digital shoppers rose 40% year-over-year for Q1 2020.
In a South African context, 29% of online consumers say they are doing far more shopping online than before the coronavirus outbreak while 65% say they are visiting physical stores less, according to a Nielsen study of 10 markets in Africa and the Middle East, including South Africa.
“The pandemic has fast-tracked trends that were already budding in the eCommerce space including digital and alternative payments. The 40% increase in shoppers and 25% increase in eCommerce merchant sign-ups to our platforms highlights this monumental shift towards digital as an increasingly preferred avenue of shopping and transacting,” says Cikes.
Cikes says the increased availability of click-and-collect models, digital payment models like buy now pay later platforms and other alternative payment options, as well as faster delivery models, are anticipated to further fuel this online revolution.
Global players wake up to eCommerce opportunity
Major tech and retailer stores are waking up to the huge potential of eCommerce as millions of consumers choose online space for their shopping. Facebook is making a major push into e-commerce with the launch of Shops, a way for businesses to set up free storefronts on Facebook and Instagram.
While Zara-owner Inditex recently announced plans to close up to 1,200 smaller-sized stores, and to invest 3 billion dollars in digital commerce.
“Retailers and tech companies are recognising the significance, need and value to move online in order to accommodate consumer behaviour and sentiment for safer, seamless shopping alternatives. It will be interesting to see the kind of personalised, targeted spin they can put on it based on their collected user data around interests and geolocation,” says Cikes.
How SA retailers can harness this opportunity
The consumer mindset has changed in terms of their relationship to eCommerce. Online has become an accepted, go-to shopping alternative with the digital environment providing consumers with convenience, safety and access to a wide range of shopping options.
And while hygiene and safety concerns have provided the initial impetus in driving consumers online, shoppers have now experienced this environment as a feasible option with its accompanying convenience and benefits. This is entrenching the shift to online shopping, extending its impact to long after the pandemic has passed.
“We’re reaching a tipping point for eCommerce. Standalone bricks and mortar are no longer sufficient as consumers demand more rapid digitisation solutions. The fact that more people than ever are relying on the internet to shop for their everyday needs makes it imperative to have an online shopping model in order to remain competitive and viable.
The eCommerce revolution is here. Those that will survive will be retailers who have a multichannel approach to sales that provides customers with an option for a seamless shopping experience from the comfort of their own homes. This is no longer a luxury. It’s critical,” concludes Cikes.
– Paul Behrmann, Founder & CEO of Payflex
Why It Must All Ad Up
With Covid-19 emphasizing the human element in advertising, brands should re-evaluate their strategies and reframe their messaging to stay relevant. Saying nothing is wrong too, add experts.
“How do we respond to the biggest global conversation taking place?” asks Robert Grace, Founding Partner: Head Of Strategy, at M&C Saatchi Abel, an integrated advertising agency with branches across Africa. “How are you actually going to match what you’re talking about with action?”
This is where advertising’s role becomes interesting, far from simply acting like a loudspeaker to products, or putting out mushy messages to engender brand loyalty.
How has marketing had to help brands pivot their messaging at this time?
The global pandemic is influencing every aspect of life. “I’ve never heard the word ‘unprecedented’ used so much. We’ve used so much hyperbolic language in this time,” says Grace.
From changing work cultures, to countries in lockdown facing economic crises, Covid-19 is impacting everyone in tangible ways. For agencies and by extension, brands, to pretend it’s not happening or go on with business as normal, reads as tone-deaf at best and disingenuous and ruthless at worst.
With that in mind, some brands have opted for silence, fearful of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. “Saying the wrong thing is unforgivable – the consumer is smarter than they’ve ever been. You could have been in the right place but one wrong move could send you backwards,” explains Khuthala Gala-Holten, Managing Director at Joe Public in Johannesburg.
The risk of saying the wrong thing is paired with the risk of saying nothing at all. “Many brands have paused spending now, which is not the best thing to do, because people expect brands to play a role. 88% of consumers want brands to talk to them now,” says Shaun Frazao, Head of Digital at Wavemaker. The data backs this up – according to email service provider Everlytic, their March 2020 open rate was really high: 55.3 million unique opens.
Others that are still “talking” are dramatically pivoting on their marketing messages and communications.
“Whatever you say has to be authentic and not seen as a marketing opportunity,” explains Grace.
“There are some brands that should be going into quarantine over this period – don’t use this ‘opportunity’ to sell, rather use the time to refine your strategy. So that when you go back into the market, you demonstrate that you’ve understood what consumers will be wanting from your brand.”
Gala-Holten adds: “Strategy first – what are the guardrails? Sometimes clients have several agencies. So you really need to empower them with guardrails. This is now the ‘new normal’ – we will never be the same. From the creative perspective, in a way, it’s very exciting.”
Across sub-Saharan Africa, we’re seeing six key themes in communications and advertising, explains Frazao (see sidebar). “Consumer centricity needs to be first. Brands that are communicating now are looking long-term, to build trust, and not short-term at the sales they could make.”
Every agency interviewed for this article has seen a combination of two trends: contracts shrinking as businesses struggle to make money, and a shift to digital marketing. “The way business has been done will change in the advertising world. We have been moving gradually to a very focused marketing landscape, and this will be the tipping point to push them into that realm at a faster pace,” says Darren Leishman, CEO of Spitfire Inbound.
For digital agencies or agencies with digital service offerings, this shift has been less painful, but agencies with offerings like TV ads (that require crew and a studio to shoot in) and eventing (where large groups of people meet) are the hardest hit.
“People are spending more time online and media figures are reflecting higher views than normal for online ads. Clients are cutting spend in offline channels in favor of online ones. However, most brands remain very cautious with marketing spend in general at this time,” says Brian Carter, Executive Creative Director at Digitas Liquorice.
Clint Paterson, CEO at sport and entertainment agency Levergy, adds: “New behaviors and lifestyles will take root, but it’s critically important to remember, people’s passions won’t die. The role of the brand or event owner becomes one of adaption here, how can relationships be reinterpreted, reinvented and reimagined to generate the kind of connection with audiences appropriate to this new normality?”
Grace puts it another way: “Any cracks you had before Covid-19 will turn into gaping holes.”
Diana Springer, Partner: Head of Strategy for strategic consultancy Black & White, adds marketing as a whole has become increasingly performance-based and goal-orientated. But in unforeseen times, “brands have to reframe what they’re measuring,” says Springer. “Otherwise, they can lose relevance. You have to change how you define success to shift your strategy. This pandemic is really making us consider the fundamentals.”
‘6 Marketing Themes FOR This Time’
Shaun Frazao, Head of Digital at Wavemaker, advises six key pandemic-driven themes in marketing for Africa:
- Supporting the frontline workers
- Repurposing production (instead of making products, brands are making products to help their consumer, such as South African Breweries donating alcohol to make hand-sanitizer)
- Helping the vulnerable
- Health messages (posters on social distancing, Pick n Pay’s message to avoid panic buying, and SA Tourism advising people to travel later)
- Making staying at home easier (brands are trying to be empathetic by making staying at home easier, like Vumatel increasing internet speed for free)
- Distributing positivity (Nandos’ latest ad is all about remaining positive, and Nike did something similar).
– Samantha Steele
The Turn of Events: Will Local Tourism Lead The Recovery Of The MICE Sector?
With the grounding of the global aviation industry, the money-spinning meetings and events sector is also on a downward spiral. Will local tourism lead its recovery?
Mauritian bride-to-be, Olivia Maurel, was all set for the wedding of her dreams at the end of April. But with Covid-19 playing party pooper, she had to make the heart-rending decision of postponing her nuptials. With three-quarters of her guest-list expected to fly into the sunny island of Mauritius, from every corner of the globe, she had no other option.
“The risks of countries closing borders and key people, such as my fiancé’s grandmother, being unable to come from England, was a huge motivator for us to [postpone],” says Maurel.
The billion-dollar global wedding industry will probably not see any big bridal gatherings for months to come. The cognac and crystal will have to wait so long as Covid-19 is the only attendee that has RSVP-ed.
With the coronavirus cancelling significant conferences and business gatherings worldwide such as the Adobe Summit and the Game Developers Conference; as also mega sports, social and entertainment events such as Coachella, the Cannes Film Festival and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry is facing the annihilating prospect of empty venues and nil revenue. Closer home, in Africa, events such as IAB Bookmarks Awards and Summit; and lifestyle and entertainment events such as AfrikaBurn, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival and the Bushfire Festival hosted in Swaziland every year, have all been casualties. And alongside that reality, life-changing events such as graduations, anniversaries and funerals are now being conducted on laptop screens.
The meetings and events industry has been impacted disproportionately by the virus. Unlike many other economic activities, the events industry is based on physical interaction between people. It’s a type of tourism in which conventions of large groups, usually planned well in advance, are organized at a physical destination.
Securing major conference events can benefit the local economy of the host city or country – particularly attracting business travelers. Research shows that business travelers are the golden goose in the travel industry. Unlike leisure travelers, they, or their sponsors, often spend more money.
According to the South African Tourism (SAT) board, the events industry, directly and indirectly, sustains more than 250,000 jobs and contributes an estimated R115 billion ($6.2 billion) to the country’s economy.
“Every year, South Africa hosts 211,000 regional, national and international meetings, conferences and exhibitions,” says the CEO of SAT, Sisa Ntshona. “The industry has undoubtedly been heavily hit by this pandemic, which also has negative bearings on employment and the continuity of businesses in the tourism sector.” Annually, the country attracts a million international delegates for business.
As the virus continues to sweep the continent, abandoned halls and venues are being transformed into field hospitals to be used as treatment centers for patients. South Africa’s minister of health Zweli Mkhize announced in May plans to convert the Cape Town International Convention Centre to become a temporary hospital with 857 beds for patients unable to effectively self-isolate until they are no longer infectious. This comes after the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg was earmarked for the same.
A report issued at the end of March by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates international tourist arrivals could decline by 20% to 30% in 2020 based on the latest measures taken by governments, businesses as well as the patterns observed from previous global crises. The impact thereof translates to a loss of $300 billion to $450 billion in international tourism receipts (exports). Ntshona cautions to interpret data prudently given the magnitude, volatility and unprecedented nature of the crisis. “The true effect may only be accurately calculated and reflected much later,” he says.
It’s crucial to understand how Africa was positioned pre-pandemic. Henk Graaff, who runs SW Africa, a boutique destination management company in Johannesburg specializing in inbound tourism in the MICE, luxury, golf and leisure travel segments in Africa, affirms the continent has been an attractive destination for tourists, corporates, event planners, weddings and honeymoons. Countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe and Zambia), Zanzibar (Tanzania), Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda were seeing increased interest and growing in popularity as events destinations.
It’s unsurprising as Africa offers a vast array of exceptional, customized and personalized locations that exceed expectations. This is strengthened by improved infrastructure, accessibility, expansion of flights and connectivity services within the region from major source markets such as Europe, Asia and America. Attractions such as the wilderness, the Masai Mara and the mountain gorillas of East Africa are now easily accessible.
But at this time, businesses such as SW Africa are strained and seeking relief. “We received both cancellations and postponements, some of which led to demands for refunds from us and in turn from our suppliers, some of whom have been more flexible than others, leading to tension in supply chain relations,” says Graaff.
He is pleading with suppliers to become ultra-flexible post the lockdown with regards to price, pre-payment and cancellation terms. He believes this will minimize or eliminate the perceived risk in the eyes of potential clients, who will be both relatively budget-conscious and risk-averse.
Maurel was luckier as her suppliers were more accommodating. “Thankfully, everyone has been super-understanding, and we’re all working together to find something that works for everyone’s schedules,” she says. “Luckily, my wedding dress wasn’t finished when lockdown started, so it’s still at Robyn Robert’s studio – if it hadn’t been, I would’ve been so tempted to run around in it and have a Friends moment!”
However, some suppliers in the value chain are grappling with an even tougher predicament. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), no airline, regardless of how well-capitalized, would be able to absorb the impact of the Covid-19 groundings for a prolonged period. The government-imposed travel ban, social distancing and maximum limits to gatherings have caused a steep decline in passenger demand for air flights to which airlines have responded by reducing their scope of operations and costs. Many airlines have been forced to park their fleets, with most seeking financial support and debt relief measures amid the low, in some cases, non-existent demand.
All African countries will feel the impact relative to the scope of their aviation industries, according to aviation specialist and analyst, Joachim Vermooten.
“The regulatory imposition of travel bans to and from specific states and later to airline operations have brought most scheduled commercial airline operations to a halt. Some one-way directional charter and cargo opportunities have arisen, but these are insufficient to maintain any scale of network operations,” says Vermooten. As a result, airlines are now focused on cash retention and several relief measures, including compulsory leave for staff and issuing travel vouchers and re-bookings, instead of ticket refunds to customers. The battle is uphill as several African carriers have remained financially distressed ahead of the pandemic. Air Namibia and South African Airways (SAA), for example, have been facing severe operating issues.
As global citizens navigate the new ways of engaging and working during the lockdown, technology has been both an aid and a threat to the tourism and MICE sector.
Organizations and individuals have embraced and leveraged technology to facilitate interactions. This includes the massive adoption of tools such a Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype. We are also seeing national tourism boards innovating through virtual reality to give travelers delightful “insperiences” from the comfort of their quarantined corners.
To avoid minimum job losses and devastating economic damage, South Africa’s department of tourism has made R200 million ($10.8 million) available to assist small-medium enterprises (SMEs) in the tourism and hospitality sector who are under particular stress due to the lockdown restrictions.
In addition, SAT is in the process of developing an industry-wide recovery plan. “To ensure that this plan is robust, we are consulting the tourism sector from the large listed players to the SMEs to input into this plan. This plan will be a blueprint on how we move forward as an industry,” Ntshona says.
With the end of the pandemic indeterminable, it’s currently impossible to speculate what lies on the other side. Due to seasonality and strong preventative measures taken by most African governments, the entire continent has the least positive cases and deaths from Covid-19 than other sovereign states. This might be advantageous for marketing African destinations to be considered relatively safer during the recovery phase. “At the heart of our recovery, will be domestic travel,” says Ntshona.
Even so, domestic travelers may initially favor alternative modes of travel to air, such as motor vehicle travel, further adding strain to the aviation industry.
This is echoed by Graaff who believes domestic travel will lead the recovery, and then demand will expand to neighboring destinations and eventually further afield.
It may be a while before a new recovery path is defined, but for now, everything hangs in the air.
– Mashokane Mahlo-Ramusetheli
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