South Africa’s strict lockdown restrictions have meant that the nation’s hotels, campsites, backpackers and guesthouses have all had to close as movement around the country is restricted and tourism has essentially been put on hold.
However, not every hotel in the country has closed its doors. Some remain open as quarantine facilities for South Africans being repatriated from overseas or as ‘self-isolation’ accommodation for essential workers and people with mild Coronavirus cases who can’t safely isolate at home.
Here’s a look at what life is like inside Joburg’s hotels who do still have guests
Indaba Hotel making quarantine feel like home for repatriated South Africans
Since the global pandemic took hold and scores of countries went into lockdown, over the last two months hundreds of South Africans have been repatriated from all over the world. Once they arrive back, South Africans are required to go immediately into quarantine for two weeks and the government has designated specific ‘quarantine hotels’ for this purpose.
One such venue is the Indaba Hotel in Fourways who have taken it upon themselves to ensure that not only do their 200 guests safely endure quarantine with plenty of unlimited wifi to enjoy Netflix, but that they also feel ‘at home’ while waiting to get back to their families.
In addition to instigating huge changes in how the housekeeping and food and beverage departments work to ensure safety for guests, suppliers and staff, the hotel has also sought to put in place as many avenues as possible for guests to feel connected while in their isolation.
There’s a whatsapp group for them to support and get to know each other, every day at 6pm the whole hotel sings the national anthem together and the guest relations team work hard to make sure guests have as much emotional support as possible, whether it be comforting those suffering loneliness on the phone or organising the delivery of individualised birthday cakes.
Candice Geyser, currently working in guest relations, says; “it makes me very proud to be part of this, helping a few fellow South Africans in this challenging time and making a difference, no matter how small.”
Watch the Indaba Hotel staff here talking about the pride they take in serving their guests during this time. You might want a few tissues too!
Serviced apartments become ‘self isolation’ hotels
Apartment hotels are ideal venues for those who need to place themselves in isolation, whether because they have been exposed to Covid-19 or because they are carrying out essential services that require them to travel to other parts of the country.
The Capital Group now offer fully serviced ‘sanitised sanctuaries’ for guests with mild or suspected Coronavirus who are worried about their ability to safely isolate at home. The Capital have also joined forces with Discovery to offer a subsidized package for Discovery members that includes meals, access to nursing care when necessary, supportive over-the-counter medicine and online doctor consultations.
Other hotels also have similar isolation offerings for essential workers who can’t stay at home, with apartments available at heavily discounted rates at properties including WeStay Apartments (Sandton), Home From Home (based at the Tyrwhitt and The Vantage in Rosebank) and the Lodge Hotel at OR Tambo International Airport.
Tsogo Sun’s Inter-Continental Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Airport is also now open for essential service providers and the Garden Court Morningside Sandton will open from 25 May.
Ubuntu Beds – a hotel network to help the helpers
Ubuntu Beds is an initiative that aims to unite hospitality businesses that now stand empty, with healthcare workers who are fighting the virus on the front lines, by offering safe accommodation to healthcare workers close to their hospitals so they don’t need to travel long journeys and worry about how to isolate safely from their families at home.
The initiative was launched in April by Kim Whittaker, owner of the Once in Joburg and Once in Cape Town backpacker hotels. Kim was one of the first South Africans to be diagnosed with Coronavirus after returning from the ITB world tourism trade show in Berlin in early March.
After recovering from the virus and talking to fellow industry contacts in Europe, she quickly realised that while her backpacker hotels remain indefinitely closed to tourists, they could be used to help curb the spread of the virus between health workers and their families.
In particular, it was the experience of overwhelmed hospitals in Italy where dozens of hospital workers died from Coronavirus, which inspired the initiative. Officials there say they wish they had had the foresight to offer health workers accommodation away from their families so they could safely isolate and rest between shifts.
There are currently more than 240 health workers who have registered with Ubuntu Beds and the organisation continues to seek more financial support from corporate and governmental institutions to ensure they can help participating establishments to provide safe and free accommodation for the country’s healthworkers.