Johannesburg - Travel and tourism insiders and experts insist that South Africa is open for business and ready to welcome international visitors.
This comes after months of lockdown restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, which closed the nation's borders in order to curb the spread of the deadly virus.
Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) CEO David Frost told The Saturday Star this week that the country’s declining infection rate, as well as the significant increase in vaccinations, are important strides in encouraging the return of foreign tourists.
The governments of some major visiting nations such as the US and France have relaxed their travel restrictions to South Africa, but the UK, which is the nation's biggest tourism market, still has the country placed on their red list.
“India has even been taken off that list and placed on Amber, and that is where the Delta variant emerged.”
Apart from leisure travel between the two countries, Frost explained that travel restrictions between South Africa and the UK are keeping loved ones apart from each other and increasing the despair experienced during the global health crisis.
“We are slowly seeing the return of tourists from countries like the US and Germany, but the UK is our biggest tourism market, and apart from trade and industry, many families are being affected by these restrictions.”
Frost said that the UK government was using outdated data to validate their decision to keep South Africa on their red travel list and that they will use updated and scientific information to persuade them to place the country, on at least, its Amber list.
Meanwhile, Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivengwa also believes that it is safe for foreigners to travel to the country.
“The South African tourism industry has always been a sanitised sphere, and even with our improved vaccination program, we will still continue to make use of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as mask-wearing and social distancing to keep our travellers safe,” he said.
He explained that these protocols and many others would be in place at airports, on-board flights, at hotels and other tourist attractions for the foreseeable future.
Tshivengwa also believes that the desire to travel will encourage an increasing number of South Africans to get vaccinated, following more than a year of isolation, quarantine and anxiety.
“The desire to travel is a huge motivator to get vaccinated as the world continues to open up.”
But despite the stride being made to encourage international travel in South Africa, the country is still relying majorly on domestic leisure travel, and although it is welcomed, it is not enough to sustain the devastated industry.
“The South African travel and tourism industry was built to accommodate South Africans, foreign travel, government and corporate officials as well as events and exhibitions,” Tshivengwa explained.
He added that the absence of other tourism role players is already being felt in South Africa as an increasing number of hotels and restaurants are being forced to close down, car rental fleets are reduced, and some airlines are unable to function optimally.
The TBCSA CEO said that they are also recovering from the effects of the second wave of coronavirus infections, which largely took place in December and January, a prime time for the South African tourism industry.
“Many people, including South Africans, did not travel, and since then, there has been little certainty in the market as infections have declined and then risen again.”
Frost also noted the devastating effects on the tourism industry, which employs about 1.5 million people in South Africa.
“On average, one tourism job feeds about six people, and prior to the pandemic, there used to be around 2.6 million international travellers visiting the country each year, with about one million tourists in Cape Town at any given time.”
Although The Mother City is acclaimed for attracting tourists, Frost said that wildlife is South Africa’s biggest tourism attraction.
“The main reason people visit South Africa is for the wildlife and safaris, and this mostly takes place in the country’s rural areas.
“The pandemic and travel restrictions has meant that livelihoods in these areas have been severely curtailed, and even conservation and anti-poaching efforts have been affected.”
Despite the compromised position of the South African tourism industry, there are strides being made.
One of the most notable was the return of Delta, a non-stop service from South Africa to Atlanta in the US through a state-of-the-art Airbus A350-900neo, which resumed this week, effective August 2, 2021.
The service, first launched in December 2006, will initially operate three times weekly, offering customers a choice of 150 destinations across the United States via Delta’s largest hub.
“We are proud of our airline’s 15-year history in South Africa and excited that Delta’s restart between Johannesburg and the U.S. is with our flagship aircraft, offering customers an enhanced on-board experience wherever they sit,” said Amy Martin, Delta’s Managing Director – Network Planning.
Delta’s non-stop flights between Johannesburg and Atlanta are conveniently scheduled as night-time departures.
In addition, Delta’s extensive network from its Atlanta hub allows travellers to fly one-stop from South Africa to cities including Los Angeles, Washington DC, Miami and New York –JFK, arriving in time for lunch the next day.
"We are excited to welcome Delta back to South Africa. North America is a key market for us, and we are confident that this Delta non-stop flight will boost South Africa's efforts to grow business and leisure tourists' arrivals out of this market,” said Acting CEO of South African Tourism Sthembiso Dlamini.