Tourism business calls for open borders
Durban - SOUTH African tourism businesses have called for the immediate scrapping of the government’s red list of countries that are viewed as high risk for Covid-19 infections as tourists set their sights on holidaying here to escape the harsh northern hemisphere winter and second wave of the pandemic.
But the Department of Home Affairs’ red list of countries from which people are not allowed to travel to South Africa, although reduced from 60 countries to just 22 recently, still includes major source markets including the UK, the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Germany.
The tourism sector has argued that travellers have to present a Covid-19 negative certificate to enter the country anyway, which nullifies the need for a red list, and says it is creating uncertainty and hampering bookings.
Several national tourism associations and tour operators said while the demand for immediate travel remained low there had been a spike in interest from foreigners wanting to spend the summer here.
New Frontiers Tours chief operating officer Faith Johnson said: “South Africa is traditionally top of mind at this time of the year as the northern hemisphere heads into their cold winter. We’re of particular interest at the moment as our weak rand offers great value for money and our Covid-19 cases are relatively low, making for the perfect escape from the cold and harsh European lockdowns.
“The interest is there, but while there is still so much uncertainty around international border closures,
the volumes remain low.” Johnson said there was a perception that self-catering and longer stays were a trend, but this wasn’t a massive shift away from traditional tourism products.
She said the country was appealing as a destination during the pandemic because of its access to good private health-care and world-class infrastructure.
“Safari is definitely proving most popular – getting into nature, away from technology and depressing news feeds and spending quality time with family and friends,” she said.
Michael Tollman, the chief executive
of Cullinan Holdings, the holding firm of Thompsons Travel, said most markets had shown interest in travelling including the US, UK, Germany, Holland, Australia, Canada, India and Italy.
He said longer stay tourists were mainly from the UK and some EU countries, looking for beach stays in Cape Town, the Garden Route and KwaZulu-Natal.
“In addition, British people who own second homes in South Africa have shown interest in longer stays here. There is also a traditional market of British people who like to escape
winter for the sunnier climate of the southern hemisphere. The third target market will be the ‘digital nomads’ who can easily work in South Africa, with the manageable time difference,” he said.
He said the country was attractive as it had “wide open spaces and we are known for not allowing over-tourism or mass tourism as with Paris,Venice, NYC, Rome and others”.
Martin Wiest, the chief executive of Tourvest Destination Management, said there was medium- to long-term interest from foreign travellers but currently “zero demand” because of the panic the pandemic had created in source markets.
He said the firm currently had just two Swiss tourists in the country, compared with the 15 000 that were here on any given day in November last year.
“If we do away with the red list tomorrow we still won’t see a demand. We are still on the Covid-19 travel warning, which means insurance travel won’t be covered and the country won’t repatriate if anything goes wrong,” he said.
Tourism Business Council of SA chief executive Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa said the industry had been lobbying the government to abandon the red list as it was not necessary because travellers had to present a Covid-19 test before entering the country.
“We have had several meetings with the government to persuade it to drop the list of high-risk countries, which will enable anyone to enter the country provided they have a Covid19 negative certificate. It doesn’t mean you are going to have an influx of tourists coming in, it means you are building certainty so people can consider coming in the next three months because with the high-risk list they can be told at any time that they can’t come,” he said.
“In the northern hemisphere a lot of people are anxious about Covid-19 and a second wave in winter and they would rather come to the southern hemisphere and stay here for a long period of time. There is interest from Canada to the US, the UK and France. A lot of people have been holding off their bookings,” he said.
Southern Africa Tourism Services Association chief executive David Frost said there was “massive interest” from foreign tourists as the country was “the perfect Covid-19 destination” because of its wide open spaces and lack of over-tourism. However, he said the government was foregoing an opportunity to attract visitors and had not consulted with the sector.