SA’s hospitality jobs market lags


While available job stock in South Africa is currently 10% more than in 2020, certain key sectors indicate a downward trend. These include education, hospitality and leisure and finance.

This is according to Marc Privett, GM of Simplify HR, who pointed to recent figures drawn from an analysis of jobs published online on job boards and corporate career sites.

He noted that while the ‘Hospitality Global Market Report 2022’ indicated that the global hospitality market was expected to grow from US$3 952.87 billion in 2021 to $4 548.42 billion in 2022 at a compound annual growth rate of 15.1%, local figures indicated a consistent month-on-month decline in available job stock figures. 

“Recent statistics show a decrease of 32% and 28% at the end of January and February 2022, when compared with 2020 across hospitality, and a staggering decrease of 41% and 39% in leisure for the same periods,” said Privett. 

This can largely be attributed to South Africa experiencing some of the strictest COVID-19 lockdown regulations worldwide, which saw the total shutdown of large sectors of the economy for months on end – including a significant and protracted ban on the sale of alcohol.

“As the world, and South Africa, continues to ‘open up’ after the devastation of the last two years with a resurgence in travel – we remain hopeful that a resulting positive impact will be felt throughout South Africa’s hospitality and leisure industry, yielding an increase in available employment opportunities,” said Privett.

He spoke to Tourism Update about the impact of this and how it can be managed. 

Q: What are the factors driving the local hospitality sector reality – resulting in it differing from the global trend?

A: “The biggest factor in the South African hospitality sector is that high-value international travellers have seen a significant decline. The height of the pandemic in 2020 saw a 71% drop in international arrivals compared with 2019. While there has been somewhat of a recovery, we are far from the pre-pandemic levels. 

We have seen a significant improvement in local tourism as the staycation becomes more of a reality for South Africans, and I believe that this trend of vacationing within one’s own country has also become a more attractive option for markets that would have previously chosen South Africa as a destination.”

Q: Is brain/skills drain a real concern? And, if so, how can/should this be addressed and by whom?

A: “Unfortunately, the skills drain is a real concern, particularly in hard-to-find skills such as IT, engineering and certain finance functions. While this on paper seems to affect roles more suited to remote work where international companies can hire South Africans with attractive salaries, the hospitality sector of course has also been affected. 

Skilled hoteliers, chefs and the like are naturally attracted to more stable working environments with the option to earn in dollars, pounds, or euros. The reality is that it is very difficult to compete with stronger economies in terms of potential pay, so it is imperative that we look at offering other attractive working models, such as flexible working conditions and, of course, connectedness. 

One of the biggest issues with remote work is that team members often feel disconnected and not part of a bigger purpose. Companies who can find the balance of flexibility and connectedness will thrive in this new way of working. 

The nature of hospitality being a predominantly front-facing business means that general adoption of remote or hybrid working models universally is not feasible but can be an option for support teams such as IT and finance functions. 

A thriving industry, however, will help eliminate doubt for those working in it and will be a big factor in keeping people in South Africa. To get this right it will take a lot of effort by industry bodies and government to ensure that we have a travel destination that is favoured, safe and free of cumbersome red tape for travellers.” 

Q: There seem to be several hospitality properties coming online this year – will this be a factor in changing the outlook to a more positive one, and why?

A: “Investment in new properties drives job creation both directly in hospitality skills but also the skills required to get the venture up and running, such as construction and project management. These new properties also indirectly contribute to job creation via their vendors and suppliers. 

While this is a factor in driving recovery in the sector, it is imperative that existing businesses also thrive. We cannot have a situation of one new property replacing ten that have had to close due to the impact of the pandemic.”

Q: What other positive global/national developments could impact employment in the sector?

A: “Unfortunately, the short-term view is not a positive one. The global economy is under extreme pressure because of the Russia/Ukraine conflict. We expect inflation to soar because of high fuel prices and shortages of materials and food in general. Many predict a global recession, and this will have a significant impact on this sector, as both local and international tourists tighten their belts. 

The restaurant industry, which has already seen a shift in behaviour towards food delivery at home, will also be negatively impacted by any recession. While direct restaurant hiring has seen a drop, there has been a significant increase in hiring on the food logistics side that supports the restaurant industry.”

Q: What are the ongoing challenges?

A: “The spectre of the pandemic and the logistics associated with it remain the biggest challenge, but as we seem to be moving into a post-pandemic reality we expect this burden to lift. The government’s role in management of future waves of the pandemic will be key in determining the health of the hospitality sector. 

The local economy, which was in a weak state going into the pandemic, by all accounts is poised to recover slower than other countries. This will continue to impact local tourism. There is also the impact of continued load shedding to consider. 

From a skills perspective, like with other industries, the tourism industry faces challenges in sourcing and attracting people with scarce skills in hard-to-fill roles, especially those where there are high levels of skill portability into other more lucrative markets. 

Quite simply, we need a healthy tourism industry with low barriers of entry and high levels of perceived safety for international travellers, with all the uniqueness and beauty this country has to offer for us to grow the sector and continue to hire.”



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