It is always with great satisfaction that I can welcome a new year with a positive article and the latter part of 2022 certainly filled me with hope again for our travel and tourism industries. In fact, hope is not a strong enough word, truth be told I am brimming with joy at the now clearly strong restoration of these industries and it was fabulous to have so many tourists back in SA this past festive season. I was in the Klein Karoo & Mpumalanga and it was so gratifying to see so many people on the ground in these areas and I know that some areas like the Western Cape recorded bumper tourism figures – certainly the best since COVID-19.
What was particularly heart-warming was that after all that has been spoken and written about the great challenges that our service industry has had with finding staff, and despite many businesses still finding it difficult to onboard a new fully trained staff complement, by comparison to my recent experiences with international travel to the USA, it was an absolute pleasure to be served locally. Believe me, even if one has to wait a little longer for one’s order the quality of service versus the service I had on a recent business trip to the USA was like chalk and cheese!
A dismal experience
On this trip, the poor experience begins right from the total lack of human interaction in the airports where it seems that they have given up on recruiting people and resorted to robotic devices handling every aspect of the journey. On one low-cost carrier airline, it felt impossible to speak to any human being. I was not even able to check in at the airport!
On the contrary, returning to South Africa felt welcoming and like I was back in a world where people who cared about people were present. Even at our passport control, which was not much longer than that of the UK and USA, I was welcomed with a smile from the moment I arrived. When I landed several other flights were landing simultaneously, but despite the pressure, we were handled efficiently and politely as one would expect from any first-world country that actually wanted tourists to visit but who still respect their own population. For anyone who doubts it, despite our load-shedding and other issues, my extensive travel experiences have indicated that we are warm, hospitable and possess a human element that so many places in the world are now sadly lacking.
Sometimes it takes adversity to create excellence
I have spoken in the past about how the positive often emerges from adversity and some of the positives that came out of the pandemic. One that I had not thought of before now, is that sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to make people realise that what they have is so precious, and when given the opportunity to rebuild their business and their livelihood, they really shine.
Yes, as a means of necessity, many in the travel and tourism industries had to opt out when the going got too tough, but I am relieved and gratified that so many stayed the course, believing that we would rise again to our former glory and in the experiences that I have encountered in this country since our resurrection I have seen only a fierce determination to welcome international and local tourists back to an industry that is possibly even better and of which I am certainly even prouder than ever before.
SA travel and tourism – I take my hat off to you – let’s keep at it!LIDIA FOLLI
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER