The tourism sector has undeniably been one of the hardest hit globally and locally by the COVID-19 pandemic. The forecasts for job and economic losses faced by the sector are sobering and many industry experts have warned that these would be compounded if the sector did not open up for domestic leisure tourism by September instead of December 2020 as originally projected by the National Department of Tourism. Marisah Nieuwoudt, Vinpro wine tourism manager provides a wine tourism update. (See update as on 29 June 2020 below)
As a collective, the South African Wine Routes Forum, consisting of 19 of the country’s wine route managers, along with representatives from Vinpro, WoSA and Wesgro, have been working hard to ensure that our wineries have factual, relevant and actionable information.
The group conducted an online Business Continuity Survey in April that was completed by 104 wineries in just three days, outlining their readiness to re-open at reduced capacity, demonstrating the impact of re-opening on the wine value-chain and the steps that they were willing to take to mitigate the risks of infection.
The survey results, as well as a wine tourism health and safety protocol and the industry’s objective of sustaining the wine tourism value-chain as far as possible formed the foundation of the motivations that the group submitted to the Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT) and the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) over the past eight weeks, while lobbying to safely de-risk parts of the wine tourism sector.
With the move to Level 3 on 1 June 2020, much-needed relief came to the industry with the resumption of domestic wine sales and the opening up of certain tourism services. The following services that we, and other associations including the Vinpro, BASA and SALBA configuration, had lobbied for were granted under Level 3 instead of the lower levels that they were originally scheduled for:
- The conversion of on-consumption liquor licenses to off-consumption for all wineries and restaurants. This led to some novel ideas for food and wine deliveries.
- Walking, hiking and cycling trails to re-open. This was an important step to position our wineries as open and welcoming to consumers while utilising one of our many competitive advantages: wide, open spaces.
- Restaurants to be able to offer delivery and collection or take-away services.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s national address on 17 June 2020 moved the following services up to Level 3 as of a date to be published in the Government Gazette, that we had lobbied for under Level 2 to activate more revenue streams for our businesses:
- Restaurants for sit-down meals, with limited capacity.
- Commercially licenced accommodation, excluding home-sharing services, to re-open for domestic leisure stays in addition to stays for business travel as previously permitted.
The president also announced that conferences for work purposes and personal care services, including at winery spas, would be re-opened during Level 3 along with facilities like golf courses and certain cultural entertainment centres such as theatres and cinemas. As soon as the latest regulations have been published, an amended schedule for wine tourism services will be made available here, which will show how the various tourism services, and revenue streams, would be unlocked leading up to Level 1.
Update: 29 June 2020
There is still great confusion around domestic leisure travel and accommodation. The official regulations (dated 25 June 2020) and the Minister in her briefing on 26 June 2020 dictated that it was not allowed under Advanced Level 3 contrary to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on 17 June 2020. The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) and Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) along with several news reports over the weekend indicated that domestic leisure travel was allowed.
While the industry is hoping for a further statement from National Department of Tourism, the Gazetted regulations are the official guideline. We advise businesses to review and comply with the newly issued Government Gazette (dated 29 June 2020) with the operational guidelines for restaurants, food service, accommodation, conferences and self-drive excursions, and align their actions with the Health & Safety Guidelines that were issued for wine tourism.
The relevant bodies are taking stock of the best route to lobby further for wine tasting and will provide an update on developments as they unfold.
We have been in awe and inspired by the resilience and resourcefulness of the sector during this challenging time. Innovative products have been developed, online trading fast-tracked and technology has been employed smartly, such as the Trade Aware mobile app developed by the team at Aware.org.za to equip taverners with the resources required to trade responsibly in the off-consumption space. Our chefs demonstrated that their hearts are in the right place by establishing feeding schemes in their communities and big corporates pitched in too, producing thousands of litres of hand sanitiser for the most vulnerable among us.
Going forward, the next six months will require a careful balancing act between our COVID-19 response, recovery strategy and business as usual. The continued roll-out of our wine tourism skills audit, publication of the results of the Economic Value of Wine Tourism study, further implementation of the Wine Tourism Toolkit and digital, trade and campaign marketing of South Africa’s wine tourism offering will undoubtedly bolster our recovery efforts and allow the sector to slowly but surely focus on the horizon, beyond the immediate crisis facing us.