Johannesburg - South Africa has been urged to start planning for the safe resumption of international air travel to help repair its decimated business and leisure tourism industry.
The call was made by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) at the South Africa’s National Aviation Conference where it was stated that careful planning and other promotional travel incentives would go a long way towards rebuilding the air travel and tourism industry.
A South Africa Tourism Survey in December stated that 58% of tourism and hospitality businesses were unable to service their debts, and 61% were unable to cover fixed costs.
The Tourism Sector Recovery Plan also reported last year that South Africa’s tourism industry accounted for roughly three percent of national GDP before the pandemic hit.
The industry also contributed to 725 000 direct jobs and over eight percent of total investment spend in 2019, the report stated.
Speaking at the conference, IATA’s Southern and East African Head, Alexandru Stancu, reiterated the industry’s call on the government to replace quarantine with testing and for South African authorities to work with the industry to prepare for the safe restart of airline operations.
“Careful planning along with other promotional travel incentives, will go a long way towards rebuilding the air travel and tourism industry,” said Stancu.
According to Stancu, waiting for vaccines was not an option and restrictions should be relaxed once vulnerable groups, including aviation workers had been vaccinated.
“Air travel is safe when the highly effective standardised global biosecurity measures, defined by the UN International Civil Aviation Organisation – with South Africa’s input - are applied together with rapid testing.
“These reduce the risk of importing infections to exceptionally low levels and as a result, make international air travel safer than many other activities that have been allowed to restart and it should not be subject to measures that are more restrictive than those applied to domestic flights”, he added.
South Africa’s adoption of a standardised global approach to securely processing, sharing and recognising health credentials was also seen as also crucial for instilling the certainty and confidence required for people to travel again and for economies to recover.
“IATA currently foresees demand for long-haul air travel to and from South Africa returning to 2019 levels by 2024, although travel restrictions, weaker business travel, perceived health risks and the slow pace of vaccinations pose significant risks to the country’s travel and tourism industry’s restart.
IATA has also introduced a Travel Pass, which is being trialled in over 20 countries, including Rwanda and Ethiopia.
It is a digital smartphone app that integrates with Covid-19 test and vaccine centres, airlines and border control and that provides users with:
· a continually updated registry of health requirements
· a register of testing and vaccination centres
· the ability to securely receive test results and vaccination certificates from laboratories and vaccine centres
· a contactless “digital passport” so they can verify that their tests/vaccines meet the regulations of their destinations and that they are able to share test and vaccine certifications with health and immigration authorities to facilitate travel.