Dear Minister of Tourism, Ms Mmamoloko Kubaui-Ngubane

I really battled to sleep last night. We don’t have a bustling hotel of guests to worry about but the flip-flopping by Government is truly unsettling. Yesterday’s article asked; Where are the tourism titans? Well, there doesn’t seem to be much championing for hospitality so I thought it was time to share our story.

We had been closed for months. We understood the need to be prepared for this pandemic and we have practiced patience. We have been grateful that TERS has sustained all but one of our team but we believe that even the one outstanding person will be sorted soon. We have submitted claims for business interruption and these have been rejected but we have made a plan to ensure our own survival but we’re finding the confusion within the industry debilitating.

Perhaps a time line of events helps draw a picture.

June 17 we were addressed by the President. We had spent 83 days locked down and were getting used to life in isolation, mowing lawns, doing night patrols and sustaining a non-existent business. But, on the 17th June the President called on us to balance lives and livelihoods. He said accommodation would open except home-stays and in no time the What’s App messages came flying in from the outside world… we could open for business!

To be completely honest we weren’t all that keen. It would have been much easier to remain closed. It is safer to hide from the world and not contract the virus but TERS would be ending and we had an obligation to our staff. 90 of our team are from our local amaZizi community and the hospitality sector is the main employer.

June 26 a letter is received from you, The Minister of Tourism; “It is important to also indicate to the industry that what is under consideration is certainly not, whether those categories should open or not. As the President pronounced, those categories will be open.”

So we felt confident that we could proceed. We ordered the R13 000 fogger, arranged social distancing stickers, got hundreds of masks, sanitizers and shields, and worked on our protocols to ensure the safety of our guests and our team. Our reduced team arrived on the 29th June for training and we decided that opening day would be the 1st July. Interestingly, as a business in a rural community, we are able to help educate our team and they in turn their families. We need to be incredibly careful, we need to make use of PPE to ensure our safety. We can share stories like the one of the two Missouri hairdressers who both tested positive but not one of their 140 clients did because they were careful and used their protective kit.

On June 30, we were invited to join a webinar with the MEC for Economic Development & Tourism, Ms Nomusa Dube-Ncube, to clarify confusion, and the MEC, a legal adviser and Mrs Ina Cronje all confirmed that “leisure travel is allowed intra-provincially”. It was gazetted and it was clear. Gosh, we slept well that night knowing that we were on-track. We were apprehensively excited for this next chapter.

But the next day a whirl-wind of changes again. Contradictions within Government. The MEC misunderstood, the assumptions were not correct but we proceeded because like us, TBCSA, Nightsbridge and others were sure we could.

Then, the Presidency posts on Friday 10th July that intra-provincial travel is allowed, TKZN confirms, only to have it all retracted in the morning. What is the story? And what is the real agenda? It simply seems to be uncoordinated, uncaring madness.

The harsh reality is that there is no TERS for July. We have no business interruption cover. How will hospitality survive this? We need to work to earn so that we can all take care of our families. It saddens us that those who continue to be paid, continue to make questionable decisions for the business sector. And, did the Department of Tourism really indicate to the rest of the country and the world that we would open up in between 12 and 24 months?

There is no way we can just sit this out indefinitely. We need to work with care and caution to be able to operate. Khanyi wants to buy 3 shields for her children so that they will be safe at school but she isn’t sure about spending the R75. Sipho and Ephraim are willing to guide families into the outdoors where sunshine and fresh air must surely be good for body, mind and soul. Nosi needs to bake so that she too can provide for her family. These are people who are going to put in desperate situations because of Government’s flip-flopping….

At the webinar on the 30th June the MEC reiterated that this virus was going no-where. It’s here for a long time. A vaccine is way-off. We have to adapt to make the future work. We cannot close and hide forever.

Successful businesses can support and build communities but it appears that Government is hell-bent on making us fail. Not only do we employ from our community, we run an independent Foundation Phase School for almost 90 children. We support 18 pre-schools, with 650 children, in the greater amaZizi district and this week we will be workshopping to get them ready so that they too can open. It took a High Court judgement to make this happen. These women, who are the backbone of our society, also need an income.

Can the Titans of Tourism please stand up? Can the public support this broken industry? Can the Minister please give us some sort of assurance?

Sincerely

Megan Bedingham – KZN Drakensberg

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