CEO of South African Tourism, Sisa Ntshona

South Africa has moved from high- to medium-risk and has been removed from Switzerland’s mandatory quarantine list – an indicator that a date needs to be set for South Africa’s reopening, according to industry.

From September 14, South Africa no longer appears on Switzerland’s mandatory quarantine list. The list, published by the Federal Office of Public Health, features countries and areas from which travellers arriving in Switzerland must enter a quarantine period of 10 days.

South Africa has also moved into the ‘Amber Zone’ on the seven-day cumulative cases index, showing a decrease of around 12%.

“It is another sign that our government needs to take note of and start taking steps towards opening up the market, or at least provide a date for when that will happen,” said #SAisTravelReady spokesperson and COO of Tourvest IME Incentives, Meetings and Events, Thembi Kunene-Msimang.

“It’s definitely an encouraging sign and in line with our decreasing COVID-19 case numbers,” said CEO of SA Tourism, Sisa Ntshona. “In terms of a date, it’s about credibility. If South Africa threw out a date to reopen borders while still in the red zone it would not come off as very credible. Now that South Africa is in the amber zone it’s a great opportunity to announce a date.”

Ntshona told Tourism Update that being able to set that date would be an important starting point for the whole tourism value chain, but highlighted the sensitivity of the country’s status. “This report is updated every week, meaning you could be green today and red tomorrow, and that’s scary.”

Kunene-Msimang emphasised the fact that health and safety efforts from South Africa’s tourism industry were being internationally recognised, and highlighted the urgency of trade in South Africa. “If the Swiss think it is worthwhile to remove our country from their high-risk list, then it obviously means they are interested in coming here.”

“As Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa [CEO of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa] keeps saying; ‘we are missing the window’. We should at least be able to start trading with countries like Switzerland and begin to secure bookings but without a date we can’t do that,” she said.

“We can’t assume that the same booking cycles will be in place,” added Ntshona, noting that consumers were still wary of making long-term decisions. “We are seeing decisions being made in shorter time-spaces as the planning phase is much shorter.”

He also highlighted the fact that some of South Africa’s major source markets might be in the red zone and that would have to be a consideration when reopening borders. The UK, which made up around 17% of foreign arrivals in South Africa last year, was moved to the red zone this week with a seven-day cumulative case rate of 31 per 100 000 people.

“We could begin fundamental marketing again but it needs to be deliberate,” said Ntshona explaining that marketing shouldn’t be wasted in source markets that may not be able to travel. “New Zealand for example is green, but their borders remain closed, and we will need to consider that.”