Accommodation sector taking a hard knock

As we all adjust to life in lockdown and the uncertainty of what lies ahead, writing about the state of the holiday rental market might seem like a slap in the face by a close friend. If ever there was a time in my life when I wished I had a crystal ball on my desk, it is now. The global future has never been as difficult to imagine as it is at the moment. Some older folk are even comparing the cataclysm of this pandemic to that of World War II.

In our small part of the world, where the local economy was starting to show positive signs of recovery after the 2018 riots, the lockdown is having a devastating impact on the short- and long-term accommodation sector. There isn’t anyone with a hotel, guesthouse, bed & breakfast or Airbnb room-to-let that hasn’t taken a financial bath in the past two months and the predictions for the rest of this year are already looking pretty gloomy.

There are many scenarios that could play out in the next few months and no one can be sure which way it will go. The biggest concern for many who have relied on their rental income as a means to survive month by month is that the income stream has simply dried up, overnight. In the same way as the world is forced to endure what some see as a global cleansing, so we in the Overstrand are going to see a change in tourism dynamics that even the most astute hosts and business owners may find hard to comprehend, never mind the adjustments that will have to be made.

One encouraging change I have observed is the extent to which many people seem to have had an epiphany in terms of who they are and how they’ve been living, and how this will impact their lives moving forward. Humanity has been forced back to the basics, and the compassion and support shown to those less fortunate in our community have been profound. I doubt that many people will come out of this unchanged in one way or another, and I hope that some of our arrogance and lack of consideration will change as we are reminded of what is important in life. I know it has done that for me.

The one thing to level the playing field is that we are all in this together, whether we like it or not. For once, this is not a political positioning of the powerful, as nothing is more powerful right now than COVID-19. If ever there was a time to behave with humility then this is it. For those of us with Alpha-type personalities, it is challenging to say the least. We will need to adapt to the new restrictions as, for once in most of our lifetimes, we can only plan within a short time-frame until some sense of normality returns.

If I dare make some predictions about what could transpire in the next few months, the one obvious focus for all accommodation providers will be a new approach to sanitation and cleanliness, the likes of which we haven’t seen before. Once the tourists start returning to our shores they will want all kinds of reassurances that hygiene protocols are in place.

Many hosts have asked me the question we all want answered: When will normality return? Taking all things into consideration, and being realistic rather than blindly hopeful, I suspect we will not see a real pick-up in numbers before the end of the year. This prospect is shattering for all concerned, but it is largely out of our control and in the hands of the powers that be to determine when the “new normal” will become a reality. What we will need to do is to make sure we have a plan in place in order to adapt quickly to whatever the outcome will be.

If there is one thing I can predict, it is that the spirit of survival of South Africans and the incredible levels of positivity and camaraderie to be found in this town will make the transition to the new normal a united one. We have a tough and bumpy road ahead, but as long as everyone accepts that we are all in this together we’ll be able to remain positive rather than fretting about what we cannot change.