‘We’ll keep travellers safe’ – Tourism promise, with reopening of international borders

The Tourism sector has reiterated its pledge to keep travellers and staff safe with the partial reopening of international tourism and travel.

This evening’s announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that South Africa would institute lockdown Level 1 and travel from 1 October was met with relief by Tourism stakeholders who have seen their livelihoods threatened or lost as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Tourism can be South Africa’s economic lifeline,” says Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO Tourism Business Council of South Africa. “Every day we have been closed to international travel, we have lost R336m of spend and the Government has lost vital tax revenue. Opening up our Tourism sector will have a direct and immediately positive impact on Government’s coffers at a time when it most needs it.”

Reopening safely

Importantly, the health and safety of travellers must remain the primary concern for tourism and hospitality stakeholders. The same measures that have been instituted successfully to domestic travellers have been extended to international tourists, which eliminates the need for requirements such as quarantines, explains Professor Alex van den Heever, Chair in the field of Social Security Systems Administration and Management Studies at the Wits School of Governance

“It is imperative that safe alternatives to quarantine approaches also be considered. Workable options can be developed in conjunction with infectious disease specialists and institutionalised into health protocols,” he says.

Under the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), the entire value chain of Tourism has devised and rolled out stringent health and hygiene safety programme and protocols under the banner, Travel Safe – Eat Safe, says Lee Zama, CEO FEDHASA, the national trade association for the hospitality industry that includes accommodation and catering sectors.

“These protocols have been based on international best practice and endorsed by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). Our industry is ready to receive guests. We have protocols in place to mitigate any risk associated with COVID-19 and have developed a Travel Safe-Eat Safe mobile app to ensure that the information of guests and participating establishments are logged electronically. South Africa is Travel Ready,” says Zama.

Reopening in phases is not logical

The COVID risk and mitigation measures are the same and the approach to people travelling to South Africa from any country should be identical. The new COVID management situation with different behaviours and following protocols applies equally no matter where you hail from.

As such, “reopening in phases is not logical,” reiterates Professor van den Heever.

“All borders should be reopened as there are no additional risks posed by an industry that is well organised, has stringent health and hygiene safety protocols in place and operates in low-density settings,” adds Professor van den Heever.

“Inbound travel will still be about 30% of 2019 levels. But if uncertainty is created now, this will be far lower. There is, therefore, no need to phase in open borders as travel will in any case phase itself,” he says.

If public health is the overriding criteria for reopening to certain source markets before others, South Africa will need to reopen to those with a similar pandemic profile, not countries where the rolling average of new cases per million of the population is much higher than ours, explains Gillian Saunders, Tourism consultant and specialist.

“However, regardless of which source markets you decide to open up to in this phased approach, the reality is that we would still have 58 million South Africans circulating freely within the country compared with a small number of international tourists who will be subject to just the same health protocols as us. The risk is the same.”

Enabling environment for tourism

Government’s decision to reopen to international travel and tourism gives the industry an opportunity to get back on its feet, says David Frost, CEO SATSA, the voice of inbound international tourism.

The sector cannot grow to its full potential and contribute more meaningfully to South Africa’s economy unless several interventions are introduced swiftly to improve our competitiveness as a Tourism destination and drive demand, among these the removal of quarantine requirements for visitors and improved visa access.“Now more than ever comes the opportunity for public and private sector to collaborate in word and deed and to leverage South Africa’s competitive advantage as a global Tourism player. This is the industry that has been earmarked as a catalyst for inclusive economic growth. As such, Tourism should be prioritised if it is going to make the contribution it has to potential to make to pull the South African economy out of these stormy waters,” says Frost.

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