SA travel sector ready to welcome international guests: ’It's a step in the right direction’
After months of waiting and hoping, the travel and tourism industry had their prayers answered when President Cyril Ramaphosa fully reopened international travel.
When borders initially opened in October, government announced a red list with banned destinations on it. That, coupled with the uncertainty of another lockdown, caused many international travellers to hold off their travel plans.
International travellers' Covid fears resulted in many tourism businesses suffering financially.
During a recent trip to Emdoneni Lodge, north of KwaZulu-Natal, I watched how the pandemic and travel restrictions caused havoc on their business.
There were only three guests the night I spent at the Hluhluwe lodge, and November bookings seemed bleak even with the discounted rates they offered.
For owner Cecil Nel, the announcement comes at the right time.
Nel said the lodge suffered severe financial loss, especially since international travellers cancelled bookings during the lodge's peak months of August to mid-December.
"I am ecstatic. It's a step in the right direction. I have faith that people will visit and hopefully as the cases of Covid reduce in our key markets like the US, Germany and the UK, they will rebook their trips to the lodge," she said.
CEO of Visit Stellenbosch, Jeanneret Momberg, said that Stellenbosch was hit with a triple whammy as a result of lockdown.
The destination is famed for being a student, tourism and wine-producing town. The longer international travellers were kept away, the longer businesses in the town suffered.
"Our economy is heavily reliant on tourism for jobs. The lockdown’s impact on classes, restaurant patronage, wine purchases and tourism experience was absolutely devastating," she recollected.
Yet, despite adversity, the town started Stellenbosch Unite to help locals affected by the pandemic, followed by the launch of its Stellenbosch Ready Campaign, endorsed by the World Travel and Tourism Council.
"Our top source markets to Stellenbosch are Germany, Netherlands, UK, and USA. Therefore, we are delighted that travellers get to experience our town once more and sample our wine. The wine industry suffered enormous financial and job losses during the lockdown. We are ready to welcome the world back and share our extraordinary town with them," she said.
Western Cape Minister of Finance and Economic Opportunities David Maynier was thrilled at the announcement.
"We called for the ‘red list’ to be scrapped as it was killing our key source markets for tourism in the Western Cape ahead of the summer season and caused much confusion and uncertainty for the travel and tourism industry," he said.