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Omicron ruins travellers festive season plans

The tourism industry plans to shift its focus to domestic tourists this season. Picture: File

The tourism industry plans to shift its focus to domestic tourists this season. Picture: File

Published Dec 5, 2021


DISAPPOINTED overseas and South African travellers looking forward to a holiday or spending time with family have been left in limbo because of the wide spread travel ban to the country.

Eager passengers on board the MS Europa cruise liner were disappointed when they were unable to enjoy the city sites and meet up with family and friends and were instead instructed to head straight to the airport after disembarking. The Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) was meant to begin its maiden voyage with Cape Town on its list of ports to call, but has since been cancelled.

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But it is not just visitors who were affected by the abrupt bans as South African citizens living and working abroad also had to cancel their travels plans.

“I don't know if I will be able to return,” said 33-year-old singer Nicolene Samuels from Cape Town who moved to Bahrain, in the Middle East, two years ago to work as an artist.

“Opportunities overseas are just bigger, especially where networking is concerned,” said Samuels.

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The singer came home nearly three weeks ago and was awaiting the renewal of her work visa and just when she was about to book her return flight, South Africa was slapped with travel restrictions.

“My agent tried booking me a flight to another African country but we were too afraid that the restrictions would carry over to neighbouring countries as well.

“Everything is just such a big downer for me, especially because I had plans to grow myself, gigs I had to attend to, now I’m stuck here once again without opportunities.”

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For the Schäfer family, living in Germany, a trip home to celebrate their matriarch’s 90th birthday that had been planned for more a year, it was a huge disappointment.

Speaking from her home in Lake Constance, Ruth, 58, said the travel restrictions ruined their plans.

“I haven't stopped crying because we have been planning this for a long time and were looking forward to seeing my mother,” she said.

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“We were supposed to land in Cape Town next week, but were told that if we do go it would be at our own risk.

“The restriction is not a ban, but at the moment flights coming into Germany from Cape Town have been cancelled and non-German citizens are not allowed in.”

Schäfer said if the family were to travel anyway, they risked incurring the costs of an isolation stay in a government facility if they tested positive, as well as unpaid leave if they were stuck due to the enforcement of stricter restrictions.

But, Jetaime Gallant, 26, who is studying in Germany, a trip home for Christmas could mean she might not be able to return in time to complete her studies.

“I booked to fly back to Cape Town on December 13 for Christmas. The day after booking, the booking was blocked,” she said.

“So I went from having intense excitement to come home, to extreme disappointment in a matter of 24 hours.

“If I decided to go home for Christmas and I wanted to come back, my student visa would not allow me to, unfortunately, it is not a risk I can take.”

George de Rock, a South African working in Mauritius, got out just in time with his family. They are currently holidaying in Cape Town.

"Our tickets were booked for December 4. But then three weeks ago the schools in Mauritius closed, because of increased Covid cases in the schools. And something just told me to change the ticket. So I changed it to a week earlier. We flew on the 27th and borders actually closed the next day."

The suspension of travel does pose a problem for De Rock's return. "We are supposed to fly back on January 5. But they are currently only allowing Mauritian citizens and permit holders to return. We are permit holders, so we will be allowed. However we might have to go into a 7-day mandatory quarantine in a hotel. We're not really worried about it. We don't mind being stuck here (in South Africa) for a few more weeks."

De Rock is one of the lucky ones. The shipping management company he is employed by, allows him to work remotely. "I'll just go back online from here until we are allowed to return to Mauritius," he said.

Enver Duminy, chief executive at Cape Town Tourism, said he was aware of a number of families whose long-awaited reunion would now not happen.

“We will continue to focus on safety and readiness to attract tourists through strong initiatives in the domestic as well as international markets, as soon as the time is right,” Duminy said.