Relief as South Africa reopens international borders

South Africa's tourism stakeholders reiterate pledge to keep travellers and staff safe with the partial reopening of international tourism and travel come October 1, this as they call for re-opening of all borders.

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On Wednesday evening, September 16, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa would institute Lockdown Level 1 as of October 1.

The news were met with relief by tourism stakeholders who have seen their livelihoods threatened or lost as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Tourism can be South Africa’s economic lifeline,” says Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO Tourism Business Council of South Africa, adding: “Every day we have been closed to international travel, we have lost R336m of spend and the Government has lost vital tax revenue. Opening up our tourism sector will have a direct and immediately positive impact on Government’s coffers at a time when it most needs it.”

Reopening safely remains tourist’s top priority

Importantly, the health and safety of travellers must remain the primary concern for tourism and hospitality stakeholders.

The same measures that have been instituted successfully to domestic travellers have been extended to international tourists, which eliminates the need for requirements such as quarantines, explained Wits Professor Alex van den Heever.

“It is imperative that safe alternatives to quarantine approaches also be considered. Workable options can be developed in conjunction with infectious disease specialists and institutionalised into health protocols,” he says.

Under the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), the entire value chain of tourism has devised and rolled out stringent health and hygiene safety programme and protocols under the banner, ‘Travel Safe – Eat Safe‘, highlighted Lee Zamekile Zama, CEO FEDHASA, the national trade association for the hospitality industry that include accommodation and catering sectors.

“These protocols have been based on international best practice and endorsed by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). Our industry is ready to receive guests. We have protocols in place to mitigate any risk associated with COVID-19 and have developed a Travel Safe-Eat Safe mobile app to ensure that the information of guests and participating establishments are logged electronically. South Africa is Travel Ready,” Zama added.

Reopening in phases not logical

The COVID risk and mitigation measures are the same and the approach to people travelling to South Africa from any country should be identical. The new COVID-19 management situation with different behaviours and following protocols applies equally no matter where you hail from.

As such, “reopening in phases is not logical,”  Van den Heever said, adding: “All borders should be reopened as there are no additional risks posed by an industry that is well organised, has stringent health and hygiene safety protocols in place and operates in low density settings.

“Inbound travel will still be about 30% of 2019 levels. But if uncertainty is created now, this will be far lower. There is therefore no need to phase in open borders as travel will in any case phase itself.”

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