The UK is essential to SA tourism – Mantis CEO Paul Gardiner on the red list

It’s an exciting time in the South African hospitality industry. Paul Gardiner from the Mantis Group joined the BizNews Power Hour to discuss the potential removal of South Africa from the UK’s red list. Gardiner notes that the UK is an essential part of SA’s tourism market. “We would generate 2.6 million tourists internationally annually. A massive chunk – almost 450,000 – are British.” – Jarryd Neves

Paul Gardiner on the importance of the UK to SA tourism:

It’s an essential market. If you look at the stats, we would generate 2.6 million tourists internationally into SA (annually) and a massive chunk of that – 450 000 – are Brits. When you switch that channel off, you can just understand the implications it has for South Africa. It’s going to be a big announcement. I think the UK government do these announcements every three weeks. The rumours are that South Africa is going to be removed [from the red list]. Usually, that kind of information leaks to the press, so they, kind of, get a heads up a week or so before – and that rumour has broken. Let’s see what happens.

On the potential ‘high season’ for SA tourism:

I think the big thing for us now is it’s October. Generally, in our industry, The 1st of October signals the start of high season, because the air-conditioning gets switched on in the Northern Hemisphere and it gets pretty chilly. The British just love to get away and enjoy the sun. [That’s when] the Southern Hemisphere starts to wake up – and the timing couldn’t be better. I actually called this right at the start of Covid-19. Somebody said, “when do you think we’re going to come out of this?” My brother and I both agreed – 1st of October 2021 we’ll start seeing the green shoots – and this is hopefully going to be the green shoots that we’re looking for, because there certainly has not been any sign of it.

On the potential Covid-19 fourth wave:

There’s all these rumours surfacing now that we’re probably going to have our fourth wave in December. Let’s hope that that is not too brutal. In our industry, we are behind the vaccination. I think we’re up to almost 18 million that have been vaccinated. Clearly, we [are] seeing the impact of the vaccination internationally – in the UK, certainly – that’s sort of a good benchmark. That death rate has absolutely plummeted. Sure, the cases are still rife – but it’s all about keeping people out of hospitals. And I think the that vaccination is proving that it.

On what happens to prices in the hospitality industry when the influx of tourists arrive:

Everybody talks about this massive wave and this flood of tourism back to their respective countries – and I don’t think we’re going to see that. I think it’s going to be a slower trickle than we think. People are nervous – Europe’s easy, you go [over there] and you’ve got really good hospitals, etc. You probably feel more comfortable doing that this year or next year. And we’re starting to see that. The UK captured a good summer season and a lot of folk travelled to Europe.

I think people come to Africa [and] they’re nervous. They don’t know what our hospital situation is like; you don’t want to be caught up in one of the countries here, get Covid seriously and you’re going to wonder where you’re going to end up. I think that’s an opportunity for South Africa because, obviously, our private medical sector here is phenomenal. I think we should be waving that flag as South Africa and almost leading the way in tourism to say, “besides our amazing hospitality, wonderful lodges and hotels strewn across this country we’ve also got amazing hospitals that – should anything go wrong – can take good care of you.” We should definitely capitalise on that.

On how important tourism is to South Africa, economically:

Typically, pre-Covid, the stat (or the Rand value) is R426 billion [that] comes from tourism, which equates to 3% of our GDP to the economy – which is a big figure. We’re very dependent on it and that is a job creator of 1.5 million people. I read a stat the other day that probably half that – or even closer to a million – have been wiped out. We’ve got to get that recovery coming, which is going to be really interesting and so important for this country because it’s a big job creator. It’s a big number, a big step and a big contributor to the GDP – and absolutely vital.

It’s not just about urban, it’s about rural. You think about all the game reserves out there that have been impacted and the job losses that have come. You’ve got communities that are hugely impacted because if we employ 50 people at a lodge that’s probably feeding 500 people in total. When there is no food, we know what happens. It’s got a massive knock on. Again, I can’t emphasise the importance of [South Africa] coming off this red list. It’s going to be an absolute game changer.

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