CEO of SATSA, David Frost.

While the reopening of international travel is welcomed, there are a number of unanswered questions around yesterday’s briefing by the Ministers. The private sector is therefore calling on government for urgent engagement and clarity.

Government announced yesterday that leisure travellers from high-risk countries would not be permitted to travel to South Africa with the exception of business travellers with scarce skills, diplomats, investors, and those participating in sports and other special events. Travellers from Africa, as well as countries deemed medium and low risk will be allowed to enter South Africa for both business and leisure. The list will also be re-assessed every two weeks.

SATSA CEO, David Frost, said in reaction to yesterday’s announcement that there was clearly “a disconnect” between President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement – and his intentions – two weeks ago that international borders would open and the suggested practical implementation thereof.

“Opening of borders is the moment we have all been waiting for but the way in which Government proposes to reopen is impractical and does not allow us to do our job, and contribute in a revenue-positive way to South Africa,” he said.

According to Frost there is no transparency in terms of the matrix being used to evaluate high-risk countries and there are a lot of practical implications and impediments that have not been considered.

“What is required is urgent engagement with Government, which needs to take place immediately to get certainty around the criteria that are being used to define high-risk countries and to highlight the impracticalities of the current approach,” emphasised Frost.

No public health reason to ban travellers

CEO of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, agreed, noting that this was especially relevant since there was no public health reason to ban travellers from any country, provided the testing regime and protocols were adhered to.

He added that while the reopening date was a step in the right direction, the nature of tourism was such that a phased reopening introduced complexities and uncertainties that reduced demand and disrupted the booking cycle. Further, changing the list of high-risk countries every two weeks is wholly impractical.

“Inbound international travellers need time to plan their travel. Changing the list of unbanned countries every two weeks introduces a layer of complexity and uncertainty that will lead to erratic booking cycles and confusion amongst travellers.

“It will also deter foreign governments from giving the green light for their citizens to travel to South Africa as they seek certainty about our entry requirements, as well as deter airlines from operating on the route. There are just too many nuances in tourism for a phased international reopening to be practical, especially if the goalposts change continuously,” said Tshivhengwa.

Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI) CEO, Glenton de Kock, told Tourism Update that the business events industry was also cyclical. “For any business event you need certainty across the board regarding dates and market access.”

He agreed that Government needed to fully understand the nature of the business and leisure travel sector. “And for that happen there needs to be closer collaboration and consultation with the private sector.”

De Kock was also concerned about the lack of co-ordination between government departments in delivering the message. “It potentially sends the message that Destination South Africa is not ready to welcome tourists. We have put a lot of work into ensuring that we are ready,” he said.

Alternative suggestion to high-risk strategy

Western Cape MEC of Finance and Economic Opportunities, David Maynier, highlighted his concern that the two-week review period of the leisure no-travel list, together with the requirement for business travellers from high-risk countries to email the Department of Home Affairs for permission to travel, will create a barrier to bookings from visitors in traditional key source markets during the critical summer season.

Maynier said this did not allow for enough lead time on which airlines could base their decisions to fly, creating further uncertainty for a sector that had already been hard-hit.

“And so, we will be engaging with national government and preparing a further submission proposing an alternative to the risk-based approach for international travel,” announced Maynier.

“We believe firmly that the safety precautions of a 72-hour PCR test and screening protocols should be applied across the board, regardless of purpose of travel and country of origin. In fact, this approach is already adopted by national government with business travellers and so it makes little sense to exclude leisure travellers in this way.”

SA Tourism CEO, Sisa Ntshona, however, was quick to point out that while many of SA’s key source markets featured in the high-risk category, the environment was fluid and would change constantly.

“We remain optimistic and encouraged by the gradual phased opening of our sector and we will monitor the changes regularly, as the country lists are reviewed every two weeks.

“We are encouraged to see that travel is open for the rest of the continent. This follows global trends in changing traveller behaviour which is influenced by trust and confidence where travel starts domestically then regionally and ultimately internationally,” said Ntshona.