March 16, 2020 / 11:42 AM / 16 days ago

Conferences, events cancelled at South Africa's Sun International over virus fears

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African hotel and casino operator Sun International is already handling cancellation of conference bookings and events by clients, CEO Anthony Leeming said on Monday, as companies rush to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Late on Sunday, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster as he announced a range of measures to contain the outbreak that has so far infected 61 and showed the first signs of internal transmission.

Measures to be taken include travel bans from countries such as Italy, Germany, China and the United States. The government will also prohibit gatherings of more than 100 people and cancel large events and celebrations, Ramaphosa said.

Even before the declaration, Sun International had started seeing the impact of travel restrictions, Leeming told Reuters over the phone.

“With travel restrictions we’ve definitely lost all international business and conference group bookings are cancelling left right and centre,” he said.

“With the President’s announcement, we’re going to have all conferencing cancelled for the next couple of months. So that’s the real impact on the hospitality side.”

Events such as music concerts that are usually held at its Times Square arena and Sun City resort have also been called off. Leeming said this will not be a huge loss for the operator.

On the casino side, Sun International has not yet seen a significant slow down in foot traffic but Leeming expects “a little bit of slowdown” as people avoid going out.

ONLINE SPORTS BETTING

In line with exploring new growth opportunities, Sun International will launch an online sports betting platform in the next month or two in Peru, Leeming told Reuters.

“Then that will quickly roll-out in Panama where we have an online sports betting license and then we can roll it out quite quickly if we can secure a license in Brazil and Argentina,” he said.

Sun International reported a 91% jump in adjusted headline earnings per share, the main profit measure in South Africa, for the year ended Dec. 31, to 605 cents per share from 316 cents per share a year ago due to lower interest and depreciation and a significantly lower tax rate.

Total income rose by 4% to 17.2 billion rand ($1.05 billion), primarily driven by above-market organic growth from key operations in South Africa and the impact of acquisitions made in Latin America during the prior year.

($1 = 16.4071 rand)

Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Pritha Sarkar

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