Open borders lauded by tourism stakeholders

18th September 2020 By: Donna Slater - Creamer Media Staff Writer and Photographer

Stakeholders in the tourism industry have lauded President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to allow restricted international travel to South Africa to resume as an effort to help rebuild the tourism and hospitality industry in South Africa.

This sentiment was conveyed during a Governance Accountability Platform webinar on September 18, which included panellists Wesgro CEO Tim Harris, Protea Hotels sales, marketing and revenue management director Danny Bryer and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung South African office head Henning Suhr.

The panellists noted that the severe lockdown restriction imposed since the end of March, in which Alert Level 5 (the most severe and restrictive) was imposed, stifled almost all growth in the tourism industry, bringing the vast majority of businesses to a complete standstill and resulting in almost zero income or profit.

However, Harris pointed out that, prior to the outbreak of Covid-19 in South Africa, the tourism and hospitality industry was booming, with tourism in the Western Cape having experienced double-digit growth during 2018 and 2019.

In addition, he said several barriers to tourism in the Western Cape in particular, such as the recent drought, load-shedding and crime, had made the tourism industry increasingly resilient with innovative solutions to meet these challenges.

These factors were recently compounded with other general issues, such as the birth certificate debacle, visa restrictions and South African airline volatility. “It really felt like we were facing a wall of obstacles before Covid-19 hit.”

Nonetheless, Harris said, the domestic tourism industry was thriving before Covid-19.

“Our pre-Covid-19 path is an indication of where we can get back to,” he added.

However, Bryer highlighted that a significant portion of the domestic tourism and hospitality industry had been one of the hardest-hit industries as a result of Covid-19, with many in the industry (about 65% of tourism and hospitality employees) being furloughed or retrenched since the lockdown started.

As such, he said, the road to recovery would be long and hard.

Nevertheless, the panellists concurred that the road to recovery had slowly started with the country's move to Alert Level 2, which eased domestic travel restriction, and now the move to Alert Level 1, which will allow for foreign travellers to visit South Africa.

“There is now light at the end of the tunnel, and from October 1, we can start the recovery and get international travellers back in their numbers,” said Bryer.

In terms of getting international travel going again, he said the process for overseas travellers to come to South Africa needed to be made easy, noting that the 72-hour negative Covid-19 test requirement may be a potential stumbling block in this regard.

“Considering South Africa is a long-haul destination for overseas travellers presents a challenge in terms of the requirement to present a Covid-19 negative test result no older than 72 hours as it can take some travellers about 20 hours to get to South Africa from certain regions. It might make it difficult to comply with that timeline.”

Further, any potential requirement for overseas travellers to quarantine, especially at their own cost, will also severely dampen tourism, he said.

All things considered though, Bryer said the domestic tourism industry did not expect a sudden rush of international tourists into South Africa as its borders open up again.

“It will start off slow and progress into a bigger ramp up towards the end of the year and beginning of 2021," he suggested.