One thing the pandemic has made us appreciate is that by simply visiting a place, by going there on vacation, you are changing lives without even knowing it. Just by choosing to be there, you are making a significant impact and implementing lasting positive change. With the first hard lockdown last year, the options for eating out, going away for a weekend, or planning a vacation were dramatically curtailed.
Here’s some personal insight into what it’s like to be involved in the hospitality industry during the COVID-pandemic:
As the owner of a small guest house in the Eastern Cape, taking its fledgeling steps after our launch in November 2019, the impact of the hospitality ban was devastating, even soul-destroying. But once I had cried my tears, I realised the knock-on impact that lockdown had on so many other businesses and livelihoods.
Now that we are enjoying the relaxation of regulations under Level one, we are wanting to take a road trip along Route 62 to explore all the hidden treasures of the Karoo. We want to meander down to the wine estates to demonstrate our commitment to making space for this year’s vintage by stocking up our depleted cellars.
When discussing places to visit, the ripple effects of the shutdown become apparent. Iconic places such as Ronnie’s Sex Shop and other celebrated restaurants or guesthouses have closed down. Speaking to owners of little coffee shops and knick-knack stores throughout the Karoo and along the Garden Route, you appreciate how important the busloads of foreign tourists with their currency in hand are to a whole value chain.
Tips and wages allow waiters and cleaners to put food on the table and shoes on the feet of their children. Selling works of art provides artists and artisans with a means to evolve and perfect their masterpieces. It will take some time before tourism recovers. But as in all times of adversity, there are opportunities. With the gradual restrictions introduced towards the end of last year, I was surprised by the number of bookings my guest house received from people who were travelling through South Africa to places that were traditionally ignored. It was interesting and uplifting to speak to families who had decided to explore their own country rather than jetting off to an exotic international destination.
They were spending one or two nights in a different town, making their way from the major cities to lesser-known destinations. They were spending two to three weeks exploring the dorpies as an alternative to planting their umbrella and cooler box in the sand in crowded summer holiday resorts. With the fear of another lockdown, my experience was that people left the finalisation of their travel itineraries to the last minute, which caught me on the back foot of planning.
When the nearest Woolies is more than 400 km away, and the most interesting bread you can find at the local supermarket is the regular sliced white, you need to call on all your local resources. As with any small town, you find resourceful people who are willing to lend a hand. Guests staying in the Rhodes village had a condition attached to their lunch reservation: please bring me supplies. The avid gardeners supplied me with lettuce, herbs and any available vegetable, picked from their garden minutes before the transport left for Rhodes. Eggs with sunshine-yellow yolks, freshly baked ciabatta, and French loaves came from the mother putting her daughter through university.
When I had 14 guests check-in unexpectedly, my neighbour rushed to my aid with a mountain of mini pavlovas, which secured her an order for the desserts for all future functions. Her son was summoned at short notice to fill various positions – barman, waitron, horse handler, fly fishing guide – that earned him unexpected pocket money. Needing extra hands in the kitchen and rooms provided local women with the funds to spoil their children after the season rush.
I truly hope that the hospitality people experienced from grateful establishments will encourage more people to consider travelling within our country to visit destinations off the beaten track. In the same vein, my wish is that guesthouses, restaurants and attractions use the opportunity to source products and services locally, as well as hone their offerings to surprise and delight. I have a mission to find people with a passion for flowers, photography, baking, making cheese and curing meat, brewing beer to tailor weddings and holiday experiences that celebrate the best of the local offerings and make a material difference in the lives of others. A real change moment, out here in the heart of the Platteland!
Compiled by Brightrock Insurance
You can learn more about the joys and challenges of life in the countryside on Karoobewoners – a series made by BrightRock – on Tuesdays at 21:00 on KykNET, channel 144 on DStv.