TBCSA appoints legal heavyweights as it considers legal route to reopen industry

21st July 2020 By: Donna Slater - Creamer Media Contributing Editor and Photographer

The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) has appointed attorneys and a senior counsel as it considers a legal route to try and ease government-imposed restrictions under Covid-19 Alert Level 3.

The TBCSA states that the industry suffers a loss of more than R748-million for every day the sector remains closed.

The TBCSA reports that the tourism industry in South Africa is struggling, with job losses already taking place, more mounting as the lockdown continues and no end in sight – factors which are crippling the industry and which may impede on its future sustainability.

South Africa is a tourism hotspot, with an abundance of game reserves, scenic routes and land features, culture and heritage sites, among other attractions. South Africa is also the air gateway to many Southern African countries which have other tourist attractions as many tourists fly into South Africa’s major international airports on their way into other Southern African nations.

However, any form of commercial tourism is largely banned under the current Alert Level 3 lockdown, with many suggesting that the industry will only be allowed to open partially under Alert Level 2 and 1.

At the same time, many assume Alert Level 2 may only be reached towards the end of this year, with Alert Level 1 only likely to come into effect in 2021.

The TBCSA alludes that tourism business operators will not survive until then, with the domestic industry as it currently stands being largely insolvent by that time, with widespread retrenchments having taken place.

HOPES DASHED

There was a short lived glimmer of hope on July 10, when the Presidency of South Africa tweeted amended regulations under Alert Level 3, which included that leisure travel and leisure accommodation in any accommodation type besides that of private homes (such as Airbnb’s) would be permitted within the province the person taking it resides.

Subsequent to this, the tweet was removed and the Presidency said it was issued in error. Many stakeholders in the tourism industry demanded answers as to why the regulations were changed back so suddenly.

In early July, the TBCSA liaised with government about opening leisure travel, and after the Presidency’s erroneous tweet, the TBCSA requested a meeting with the Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane to get more clarity on why the President lifted industry prohibitions and then suddenly backtracked.

“In that meeting it became clear that domestic leisure travel would not open [anytime soon],” says TBCSA chairperson Blacky Komani.

Subsequent to this, he adds that the TBCSA has exhausted all other forms of engagement with government and will consider taking a legal route to assist the industry and preserve tourism businesses and jobs.

In consideration of a legal route, the TBCSA has appointed Sandton-based law firm Tshisevhe Gwina Ratshimbilani Incorporated - TGR Attorneys to give advice, as well as Senior Counsel advocate Gilbert Marcus.

“Our brief [to the senior counsel] is to be very specific. We have asked the senior counsel to focus on the section within the law that deals with domestic leisure travel and give us an opinion on that,” he says.

Getting that specific opinion, which the TBCSA expects before the end of the week, will empower the board to convene and make a decision on whether to continue with the legal route and launch a court application, or look at other options.

TBCSA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa explains that the tourism industry, broadly, is frustrated.

“We want to see our employees going back to work, and our companies opening up for business again.”

Tshivhengwa states that recovery starts when “that one employee goes back to work and they are able to put food on the table. This is when we start to see a difference in communities.”

Meanwhile, the TBCSA also reports that during its recent engagement with Kubayi-Ngubane, it was decided that a private/public sector-driven team will be established to deal with technical issues related to the tourism industry. The joint team will comprise a 50:50 split.

“The team will help greatly in terms of deliberating when matters go to the National Coronavirus Command Council whereby they will receive direct input from this technical team,” says Komani.

Parallel to this, the TBCSA has scheduled meetings with Kubayi-Ngubane to engage on a broader scale, as well as in more focused engagements on certain aspects.