FlySafair calls for changes to public holidays law to boost tourism

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FIFI STONES: FlySafair believes it has a solution that could help the tourism industry recover from the devastating impact of Covid-19 and the massive job losses it has caused. FlySafair proposes that all public holidays are long weekends. How it would basically work is that the holidays that fall in the middle of the week would be moved to Monday or Friday so that we have a long weekend. FlySafair believes that during long weekends there is an increase in demand for travel activities which could help the industry as a whole recover much faster.

We have Kirby Gordon, Director of Marketing at FlySafair, joining the Market Update. Kirby, I hope I got the gist of what FlySafair is trying to do right. Just add to that, maybe, and help us understand what your business thinks the immediate effects of a proposed change to the Public Holidays Act could be for your business and the industry.

KIRBY GORDON: Hi, Fifi. I’m not sure I hear you, but if I heard the question correctly, you were asking for an outline of the proposal. Our suggestion at this point is, as you mentioned, to try to orchestrate that statutory holidays or at least statutory holidays be observed on Fridays and Mondays, and therefore that we do [them] long weekends, which we believe will ultimately support the economy – particularly the tourism economy in South Africa – while we, of course, leave behind the historical significance of the dates we celebrate as days of commemoration on those days.

FIFI STONES: OK. So it’s always about celebrating those important days in history, except on a different day. Are you suggesting that this is a permanent change or just like something that we do for as long as it takes the tourism industry to recover?

KIRBY GORDON: The idea is that it would actually be a long term solution that could help the national economy in the long term. There are two elements to this. It’s kind of like a two birds with a stone effect. On the one hand, by creating long weekends, we certainly stimulate domestic tourism, which is obviously fantastic for this industry. At the same time, the research we have done and the statistics have illustrated [is] that not having holidays in the middle of the week also limits disruption to the rest of the economy, as would normally happen when it does. It’s a precedent that’s been set in many countries around the world – instead trying to observe at least the holiday elements of a public holiday on a Monday and Friday.

I think it’s always very important for us to keep in mind that we maintain the importance of historic days. June 16, for example, will always be June 16, and every South African should know the meaning of this date. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing business or necessarily going to school on this day. We can have a corresponding day which we would then have as a business holiday.

FIFI STONES: I agree with you on the productivity element. We were talking with my producer, Kaldora Naidoo, about this to say that when a holiday falls on a Tuesday or midweek Wednesday, getting the vooma to go back to work the next day can be a bit difficult. So I hear the productivity argument. But what does this potentially mean for the prices, because what tends to happen is that during long weekends the price of plane tickets goes up?

KIRBY GORDON: Absoutely. If we create additional peak times, we in tourism as a whole are price takers. So if the demand increases, there is a chance that the prices will increase during the period, but this is actually important in the long run for the sustainability of our industry. I’ll use another example; if you think of a hotel, this hotel exists 365 days a year, someone has to pay rent for this hotel 365 days a year. There are nights when these beds will be absolutely empty, and there are nights when everyone wants to jump into these beds.

The reality is that all of us in tourism have our low seasons and our high seasons, and in the low season sometimes you can’t give away your product, your service. But the high season is our chance to make money. And so the more of these opportunities we have, the more sustainable our industry is in the long run. It’s a game of swings and roundabouts.

FIFI STONES: OK. Kirby, you have submitted this proposal to the Tourism Business Council, I believe, for consideration. Are all stakeholders present here? What are your peers in the airspace saying about this?

KIRBY GORDON: The proposal is, of course, to make an amendment to the Public Holidays Act 1994. What that would ultimately require is that we present a petition to parliament. But, while preparing a petition for Parliament, what we need to do is garner enough support from various bodies in industry, tourism, labor and, of course, the public for this proposal, so that it is something that we can table in parliament with some weight.

We started with the support of the Tourism Business Council because they received it very warmly, and certainly in another conversation today and before all of that we had a very warm welcome to the idea, and of course a lot very interesting reviews debates on the consequences of this type of change.

FIFI STONES: Like what? What are some of the criticisms that have been leveled against this proposal?

KIRBY GORDON: I think you have to keep the practicalities in mind. There are certain holidays – for example, let’s look at something like New Years Day. New Years Day could never be any other day than January 1st. So obviously we have to consider some exceptions and I think that’s very relevant. There are therefore certain limits to the proposal.

Likewise, I think what we all feel very strongly is that in South Africa our public holidays are by no means invented, they are all largely tied to very important historical events. And it is very important for all of us, for South Africans, that these are properly commemorated and properly regarded and given due consideration for the reverence they deserve. So I think it’s important to keep that in mind. But overall the response has been very positive and very encouraging.

FIFI STONES: In terms of timelines, can you give us an idea of ​​when you expect some form of response, and maybe this proposal will actually go to Parliament?

KIRBY GORDON: At this point, as I said, we’re busy engaging these various parties. So it depends on how long within these various entities they choose to debate the subject. But we have a short list of various entities that we would like to have strong approval for before bringing it to parliament – and it would be ideal if we could do that in the New Year. We think it would be a good way to start over. Then we can petition and hopefully get a review.

FIFI STONES: Provided, as you said, that the New Year is not considered a working day. Imagine having to work on New Year’s Day! I love that there are a few exceptions to this, but I understand the economic argument and we’ll be watching this story closely to see how it ends.

Kirby, we’ll leave it at that for now. Thank you very much for joining us. Kirby Gordon is the Marketing Director of FlySafair.


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