Light at the end of the tunnel for the hospitality industry

Light at the end of the tunnel for the hospitality industry
Shaun Lamont, Managing Director of First Group Hotels

After more than 18 months of COVID-induced restrictions, the hospitality industry is slowly breathing a sigh of relief

It’s no secret that COVID has had a tsunami-like impact on the hospitality sector. Travel and tourism were virtually flattened in a manner that was unprecedented. In fact, according to Stats SA, the tourist accommodation industry’s unadjusted income decreased by nearly half year-on-year, with hotels taking the biggest knock* – clearly COVID took no prisoners! But then, the 2021 December holiday season heralded the arrival of a very welcome light at the end of a very long, dark hospitality tunnel. With lockdown restrictions eased, and local tourists flocking to spots around the country, many of South Africa’s hotels and resorts were almost booked to capacity.

Last-minute bookings

Shaun Lamont, Managing Director of First Group Hotels and Resorts excitedly relayed that 95% of their properties were fully booked for the December/January holidays. “As we approached the festive break, bookings were still lagging. Many families waited until the eleventh hour before confirming their holiday travel plans, fearing that inter-provincial travel bans may be re-implemented with the Omicron surge in late November. This resulted in many last-minute-dot-com bookings flooding in, and in the end, First Group Hotels and Resorts were abuzz with activity. It was so encouraging and uplifting to see guests unwinding and relaxing after such a prolonged, stressful period, making lasting, magical memories with their friends and families.”

Safety – a guest priority

Interestingly, Lamont says that guest expectations and priorities have really shifted as a result of COVID. “Where previously, a perfectly plumped pillow and access to super-fast Wi-Fi would top the list, we have found that guests are now more interested in the safety protocols employed at each resort. Fortunately, First Group has always prioritised guest safety and in March 2020 we revisited the health and safety measures implemented across all our resorts, to ensure only the highest standards at our 25 properties.”

He says that those measures include the use of electrostatic sprayers with hospital-grade disinfectant, no-contact thermometers, disinfection spray tunnels, hand sanitation stations, and the use of ultraviolet light technology for the further sanitisation of all rooms and public areas. “Our Number One priority this festive season was to optimise guest safety from check-in to check-out so that they didn’t have to focus on anything but making magical, lasting memories with their friends and family.”

Looking to the future

While nobody really knows exactly when the hospitality industry will regain occupancy levels seen pre-COVID, Lamont is optimistic, “I am looking forward to the future with enthusiasm. There are clear signs daily that things are getting back to some kind of normal, and while it will never be precisely the same as before, we have simply learnt to adapt and evolve into a new normal.”

For great ideas of where to enjoy a holiday where your safety is the first priority, visit www.firstgroup-sa.co.za.