South African travel and tourism organisations have welcomed the removal of the newly gazetted Covid-19 regulations requiring a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for children under the age of 12 years, but questioned the regulations that continue to restrict the size of gatherings, saying this was not based in science.
Family travel is a significant segment for South Africa’s travel industry and, without the option to vaccinate children under 12 years, previous regulations meant that families travelling overseas have been forced to bear additional expenses and inconvenience, deterring them from even travelling to destinations that require a negative PCR test for under 12 year olds for entry, said industry body the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (Asata) CEO Otto de Vries.
Asata welcomed the May 4 announcement that families with children between the ages of five and 12 years no longer need to provide a negative PCR test when returning to South Africa.
"For travel to happen, we need consistency and certainty. Consequently, we look forward to the finalisation of regulations in the next few months so that this is achieved," he said.
Leisure destination company More Family Collection founder and CEO Robert More added that the company had seen the pent-up demand from large family groups wanting to travel to South Africa grow recently and regulations requiring negative tests for those under 12 had been a significant barrier to inbound travel for families, while competitors like East Africa have made it much easier and more accessible to travel to the destination.
"We are confident that, with this change, we will be in a position to inspire more families to visit our shores, which bodes well for our tourism industry’s recovery," he said.
Similarly, industry organisation the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (Fedhasa) welcomed the regulations removing the requirement for under 12 year olds to present a negative PCR test, and was heartened that the Department of Health (DoH) appears to have listened to the industry’s calls for this regulation to be altered.
"With family travel being one of the pillars of inbound tourism to South Africa, the previous requirement had made South Africa unattractive to young families. With the removal thereof, we trust that we can once again start rebuilding ourselves as a destination of choice for families and help our industry recover," said Fedhasa chairperson Rosemary Anderson.
"However, we question the continuing requirement of reduced gathering sizes, which are not based in science, and which means that many of the international events we would host in South Africa will now simply not be viable, which will result in further job losses in our industry."
For any medium- to long-term planning to take place and events business to be secured, the industry needs certainty. Waiting another three months will mean that it will be losing many event opportunities during this time, she said.
"Certainty is the ingredient that is essential for our industry to survive and thrive. We urge government to lift the restrictions on events’ gathering sizes sooner rather than later and provide the certainty our industry requires to be able to be the job creator we could otherwise be.
"We could be positioning South Africa as a leading meetings, incentives, conferencing, and events destination which would positively contribute towards alleviating the massive unemployment rate in our country, particularly the youth," she added.
Further, industry organisation Southern Africa Tourism Services Association CEO David Frost said the association welcomed the removal of a negative PCR test for under 12 year olds, but is disappointed that the DoH has continued with regulations that have no scientific basis, such as the size of gatherings.
"This is especially galling since that same department took umbrage with the unscientific approach of overseas governments which put in place restrictions against South Africa with the discovery of the Omicron variant. Why then, when the shoe is on the same foot, do we do the same?" he asked.