The historic Lilliesleaf Farm.

Gauteng tourism suppliers, attractions and operators will need to re-adjust their tourism strategies to fast track the recovery of the sector in the province. This includes downscaling physical operations and upscaling digital offerings.

This was highlighted during the first of a series of webinars hosted by the Gauteng Tourism Authority on Friday (June 19) where participants discussed the ‘new normal’ ushered in by COVID-19 and which has dramatically changed the travel landscape.

“We have to adapt to the new normal even as it is unknown at the moment,” said Acting CEO of GTA, Fezile Ngqobe. “What we do know is that, as a sector, we are all in this together.”

Participants agreed that the safety and protocols needed for the safe reopening were important, and that profits should not be the only concern for the sector, as these were not mutually exclusive choices.

Ngqobe pointed out that the reopening of restaurants, casinos and hotels had restored confidence in the recovery process and could be viewed as “a starting point to stem the tide of businesses folding”.

He said the double-digit growth forecasts for the province – undertaken in the first quarter of the year – had fallen flat following the rapid closure of borders and travel restrictions.

“These restrictions now mean more local tourism will be needed to supplement the loss of revenues from international tourists,” said Dawn Robertson, CEO of Constitution Hill – one of Gauteng’s most important heritage sites.

The transition to a digital world to create and satisfy experiences has become a major driver for attractions such as Constitution Hill, Liliesleaf Farm and other entities, including hotels and resorts, which are now embracing the role that technology can play, through virtual tours and information sharing.

“We are repackaging our strategy for visitors to include more digital offerings as we will have to limit physical numbers as social distancing may well be with us into 2022,” explained CEO of Emerald Resorts, Mark Hands.

Liliesleaf Farm, once the nerve centre of South Africa’s liberation struggle, is downscaling its physical tours with Nicholas Wolpe, Founder and CEO of the heritage site highlighting that there are now 1 400 hours of archive material. “We will be taking these online and through virtual tours and information banks that can be accessed off site.”