Tourism is one of the industries hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. The industry has experienced an unprecedented reduction in tourist arrivals and domestic demand for hospitality services for the greater part of 2020. International arrivals on the global stage declined board by 74 percent, with Africa dropping by 75 percent in comparison to 2019. In this interview, Sunbird Tourism plc chairperson GEORGE PARTRIDGE speaks on how the listed hospitality chain is coping amid the pandemic:
How has Sunbird Tourism plc faired in the Covid-19 environment?
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the tourism industry faced unprecedented reduction in tourist arrivals and domestic demand for hospitality services for the greater part of 2020. The necessary measures of lockdowns and restrictions in meeting numbers to curb the impact of Covid -19 further eroded levels of activities for the hospitality industry on the local market. However, despite these challenges, the company was able to stay afloat through confidence-building measures in managing the pandemic within Sunbird for guests to trust and continue patronising us. The corporate individual, the anchor segment of our business, contributed 51 percent of total room nights, followed by corporate groups segment at 22 percent.
What has helped the company to stay afloat?
The company strategically directed its efforts on the domestic market. A number of sales and marketing segment-based strategies were implemented targeting this market. The strategies included the following; enhanced customer relationship management, product and services development targeting the domestic market, continued focus on unparalleled guest experience, responsive revenue management and an aggressive marketing approach.
How has Sunbird faired on the Malawi Stock Exchange?
The share price for Sunbird declined by 23 percent in the year under review and is currently sitting at K90 per share. This is attributed to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic which has devastated performance of the whole hospitality industry, with Sunbird’s revenue performance dropping by 30 percent. However, the board is confident that once the business environment normalises, the company will be back to profitability and will resume its growth trajectory. This should also reflect in the share price.
Why has Sunbird not paid dividend to shareholders for 2020?
Sunbird has posted a loss this year due to the adverse operating environment, and as a forward-looking company, the accumulated retained earnings have already been committed to various investments. The directors, therefore, resolved to recommend that dividends should not be paid this year.
The Covid-19 pandemic seems to have no clear end in sight, how is Sunbird positioning itself in this regard?
Indeed, the trading environment continues to remain uncertain, but the world is improving all the time in the way that the pandemic is being managed. Sunbird will, in the meantime, continue to focus on the domestic source market and implement its strategies to ensure increased production for the targeted market. A business continuity plan is in place to ensure that there are no service disruptions when there is a confirmed case, but also outlines the plan within the company on how to deal with the pandemic. A Covid-19 Response Management Team is also in place to drive the response initiative across our hotels and resorts.
There is growing demand for the corporate world to play its role on green issues. How is Sunbird contributing to these efforts?
Sunbird recognises its responsibilities towards ensuring sustainable tourism through investment into renewable energy, and that green issues are at the forefront of doing business as our contribution towards carbon footprint reduction. Currently, the company is working on a renewable energy plan across all the hotels and resorts to diversify our energy sources.
Looking forward, what is your assurance to stakeholders that the company will continue to perform despite an adverse trading environment?
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented an unusual challenge to the hospitality industry. However, with the global vaccination campaign underway, the industry is slowly on its way to recovery, as the market gradually becomes confident to resume travel.