Covid-19 halted travel in 2020 as destinations imposed travel bans and lockdown restrictions. Picture: Anna Shvets/Pexels
Covid-19 halted travel in 2020 as destinations imposed travel bans and lockdown restrictions. Picture: Anna Shvets/Pexels

2020: The year travel hung in the balance

By Clinton Moodley Time of article published Dec 30, 2020

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2020 wasn’t kind to the travel and tourism industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic. IOL Travel wraps up some of the biggest travel highlights of the year.

Countries billed as the top destinations to explore

2020 started on a high note for the travel industry, with many travellers hoping to catch flights and explore new destinations this year. Among the top destinations to visit in 2020 were Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Curaçao, Namibia and Malaysia.

Coronavirus halts travel

Coronavirus, first identified amid an outbreak of respiratory illness cases in Wuhan City in China in December 2019, later spread to most parts of Asia, Europe and the US. By March 2020, it was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation and slowly made its way to Africa and South Africa.

The travel world came to a standstill. Many airlines stopped flying to high-risk Covid-19 areas and many countries imposed travel bans.

Travellers, in fear of contracting the virus, shied away from travel and postponed their upcoming trips. The Covid-19 situation got to the point that many countries went into lockdown, shut down major tourist attractions that drove their economy and many airlines temporarily suspended their flights. With President Cyril Ramaphosa implementing a national lockdown at the end of March and shutting closing borders, the situation for travel looked pretty bleak.

Closure of world-famous landmarks

Many famous tourist destinations shut down due to travel bans and lockdown restrictions. Among the landmarks included the Eiffel Tower in France, Machu Picchu in Peru, Taj Mahal in India, The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt and The London Eye in the UK. Locally, South Africa's tourism sector was hit hard by the pandemic as many businesses within the industry relied on international travellers to stay afloat. Once populated attractions like Table Mountain and Kruger National Park turned into ghost towns.

The airline industry crashes

One of the biggest hit industries due to Covid-19 was the aviation industry. Flights were cancelled with millions of revenue lost, resulting in salary reductions and retrenchments.

The International Air Transport Association revealed in October 2020 that there was "little improvement in the aviation industry’s position amid the Covid-19 crisis"

Director-General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said at the time: "Airlines continue to burn through cash. For the second half of the year, we expect, on average, for airlines to burn through cash at about $300 000 per minute for a total of $77-billion. And that’s on top of the $51-billion cash burn in the second quarter.

"We are burning through cash because we cannot cut costs fast enough to make up for the impact of not being able to do business. Borders for the most part remain closed," he emphasised.

IATA has been very vocal about the need for destinations to avoid quarantine measures when reopening their economies as it discouraged people from travelling. While some countries required mandatory quarantine, others require a negative Covid-19 PCR test result issued at least 48-98 hours before arrival.

Closer to home, the SA aviation suffered for months due to the national lockdown and travel bans. However, just months into the national lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa permitted business travel and later resumed leisure travel. The introduction of both business and leisure travel helped airlines resume operations and slowly allowed domestic travellers to explore other parts of the country.

With the resumption of international travel in October, airlines began to fly into South Africa. New airline Lift launched in December 2020.

The travel industry resets, makes health and safety a top priority

When borders started to resume (many have closed again due to rising cases) the travel industry had to adapt to the new changes. Hotels adapted to the pandemic with contactless stays, temperature checks and sanitisation stations and the wearing of masks mandatory. Locally, the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) launched an app called Opus4business, which aids the safe reopening of the industry by training business operators on Covid-19 tourism safety protocols. Their Travel Safe – Eat Safe Certification provides evidence that all social distancing, cleaning, and health screening procedures are up to par and allows effortless management of health screenings for patrons, employees, suppliers, and more. Cape Town Tourism partnered with safety response app Namola to provide visitors with educational information on health and safety and responsible travel.

A new variant of SARS-CoV-2 detected

With some destinations, including South Africa and the UK, experiencing a spread of a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, many countries have closed borders. The new Covid-19 mutation comes after South Africa announced its second wave. Currently, at the time of writing this, destinations like Turkey, Israel, Germany, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia and Mauritius have closed their borders to South Africans and other destinations that have cases of the new variant. The new variant may cause further travel bans and restrictions.

The future

Despite the challenging year for the travel industry, there seems to be hope on the horizon. A new Covid-19 passport may revolutionise how people travel during the pandemic. Enter the CommonPass, a project by The Commons Project and The World Economic Forum will be a quick and reliable way to showcase travellers' health status. According to its website, The CommonPass framework will allow individuals to access their lab results and vaccination records, and consent to have that information used to validate their Covid status without revealing any other underlying personal health information. The lab results and vaccination records can be accessed through existing health data systems, national or local registries or personal digital health records, including Apple Health for iOS, CommonHealth for Android. CommonPass will inform travellers of the country's Covid-19 regulations, allow them to upload their test result, give certification before boarding and on arrival.

Meanwhile, IATA also announced that it is in the final development phase of the IATA Travel Pass, a digital health pass that will support the safe reopening of borders. The Contactless Travel App allows passengers to create a ‘digital passport', receive test and vaccination certificates and share testing or vaccination certificates with airlines and authorities to facilitate travel. The app will also help travellers to manage travel documentation during their journey.

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