SABBEX executive head Vanessa Davidson reflects on the impact of coronavirus

These are unprecedented times. How are you holding up? You recently moved house, I suspect you didn’t think you’d be spending so much time there?

Luckily the new house is a great place to hang out and enough space to get some exercise.

Are you able to work ok?

Work wise Thina and I have been busy keeping members updated with developments and assisting with queries. Sifting through all the information and getting new regulations out to the members quickly has been our priority. Only downside with the house move was not having time to get fibre. Mobile data costs are high which makes Zoom and Skype meetings costly ways of interacting.

You’ve been engaging with industry stakeholders. How bad is it out there?

We conducted a short survey with members last week regarding staffing and remuneration and things are tough. Everyone is trying to make the best of the situation and access UIF and TERS funding where needed for staff. The interdependencies of the supply chain in our industry means some businesses have taken a real knock. It is becoming clear how businesses have carved out very particular niches with different business models. Talking with international colleagues it is bad worldwide, but the more wealthy economies are able to offer and structure financial support which is most welcome by business.

How long do you think it will be before business is up and running?

This is a moving target and I really can’t say. It will depend on government directives. The question is how many businesses can survive an extended lockdown without financial support especially the SMMEs.

Is there any clarity around whether the sector will receive some form of financial assistance in response to the lockdown? Is there a ballpark figure of how much this has cost us?

The IDC is considering applications from the boat/ship building sector as it is a priority sector, but IDC financial  interventions are medium to long term and there is extensive due diligence to be completed. This will not help businesses needing short term assistance. We have sent through our survey data to government departments so they are aware of the position our sector is in. With reliable information they are better informed if they do decide to look at some relief measures. Personally, I think relief measures will not be sector specific as everyone is being impacted. I don’t know yet what this has cost us. A piece of research into the economic value of the marine manufacturing sector has recently been commissioned by the dti and the IDC and I think when that research is complete we will have a much clearer picture.

Some companies have reported trying to use the time to do online marketing, but this is cold comfort for artisans. Is there any clarity on how many jobs have been affected?

From our survey there are only 9 retrenchments so far and members are doing their utmost to keep their staff. Our artisans and technicians are the backbone of our industry and retaining skills for when business resumes is important. On a positive note, potential buyers worldwide have more free time on their hands to research boat purchasing and now is the time to engage with them.

Will the industry look significantly different post coronavirus? Presumably infection control might become a fact of life at the workplace.

Yes, I think the world will be different. Boating and sailing are both healthy outdoor activities and family based and I think that the lockdown has made us more aware of the importance of health and family, so hopefully boating will not take a knock. Yes, I think infection control will become a way of life at work and at home and respect for people’s boundaries will be heightened post coronavirus.

It seems likely Europe will exit the pandemic before we do. Is this at least a glimmer of hope that the market may at least return overseas, even if local suppliers are hit?

America is our primary export market so things getting back to normal in the States and the Caribbean will be important for future orders. The jury is out on what the impact will be on the global charter yacht industry. With 95% of boats produced being exported, it is important we get back up and running as soon as possible so we can continue contributing to the local economy. Minimising the disruption to production is important but we don’t have much control over this.

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