The Eastern Cape is known globally for its award-winning game reserves, but the international clientele cannot reach South Africa as our borders are closed for tourism. But a new trend is emerging: South Africans are taking up the available space as they take a well-earned getaway after five months of lockdown.
Game reserve operators felt the financial bite of the lockdown and still face a hard slog to reverse the losses. But fortunately, locals are taking the opportunity to explore in their backyard, so to speak.

Part of the increased local interest is linked to lower rates offered. Previously many of the reserves were exclusively a destination for the well-heeled.

It has been a tough couple of months at the Pumba Game Reserve. Their last guest checked out on March, 26th. But conservation and animal management did not stop and all efforts were directed to preserve jobs. But now the dust is being kicked up again. Guests are returning to much excitement.

One guest says, “It’s so nice to be back here after months of being coupled up at home. It’s so nice just to leave Port Elizabeth and get out into the wild, it’s so refreshing just being here.”

Another says, “I’m really looking forward to my time where, it’s out in nature, away from the hustle-bustle of the city and it’s honestly the best place to be after months of lockdown”

“What a way to start the spring, being out here with my family, it really feels so good. It’s an amazing feeling just to get out, leave Port Elizabeth and get to nature for some much-needed time out,” adds a third guest.

Safety measures put in place 

Stringent measurements have been put in place all around the reserve to prevent the spread of the virus. The director of Pumba Lodge, Dale Howarth, says masks are a must, especially for his first arrivals…

“It actually feels like the first day we opened, that’s how excited everyone is. You can see that everyone is really tired of being stuck at home and wants to go out and have fun. That really shocked me is that normally we have people from Cape Town and Johannesburg coming to our lodge, but in our first week, with just one lodge opened we are full to capacity and its people from the Eastern Cape and next week there are more bookings. The response has been really phenomenal.”

Down the road, another game reserve is also getting ready to open.  It’s safety first from the moment you arrive with temperature checks and screening. Everything from the gym, to the spa, to the family room and even the game drive vehicles have been sanitized and a strict sanitising regime is in place.

The lodges that have opened are already 70 percent full, with local bookings.

In the video below, impact of COVID-19 on Eastern Cape tourism: 

Special rates on offer

Shamwari Game Reserve’s Joe Cloete says the increase in domestic travel is a good sign.

“There is a massive demand out of the areas of Cape Town where they have been in lockdown for five months, Johannesburg and local areas like Port Elizabeth and East London. We are seeing a sudden spike in domestic travel, we have put out special domestic rates to cater for the South African market and we will probably have to extend to beyond that till Christmas, depending on what will happen with the international travel ban, and there’s a big demand for locals to get out and enjoy safari experience. We anticipate two types of travel, there will be the couple that comes, or there will be the families that would like to have a private experience, so we are opening up two lodges, one for a private exclusive type of villa, safari experience where you operate in your own bubble and the other will be for individual couples where we can spread them out.”

Glen Papin from Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism says South Africans must make the most of the special rates on offer.

“We are hoping that in September with it being tourism month, we will see people coming to experience out beauty, but chatting to my colleagues in Addo, they have definitely seen a nice Pick up on leisure travel, so we hope that the South African hat can get out there, lockdown was hard, you know five months, get out experience your city, there are a lot of specials on the go at the moment.”

It is estimated that it can take up to a year for the game lodges to recover completely from the losses they suffered.

All eyes are now on the reopening of borders for international tourists, a move that will instantly boost the industry.
In the video below, Pumba Game Reserve one of the top ten destinations in the world: