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Omicron variant travel bans further squeeze domestic tourism in the country

Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa said the tourism industry has seen a 71 percent decrease in tourist arrivals last year, and this year it was starting to show positive numbers before the travel bans. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa said the tourism industry has seen a 71 percent decrease in tourist arrivals last year, and this year it was starting to show positive numbers before the travel bans. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Dec 12, 2021

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THE tourism sector’s initial desktop survey suggested that the sector had seen R1 billion worth of bookings cancelled over the past few days, according to Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa.

He said these figures did not include airline and other on-the-ground spending losses at restaurants, curio shops and other sector traders.

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This followed the recent announcement that South Africa and other Southern African countries were back on the UK’s red list, which triggered many other travel restrictions imposed as a result of the identification of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant by South African scientists.

Tshivhengwa said the tourism industry has seen a 71 percent decrease in tourist arrivals last year, and this year it was starting to show positive numbers before the travel bans.

“The industry has already lost 470 000 jobs out of 1.5 million and more jobs will be lost due to these travel bans. We also witnessed the stocks of tourism and hospitality companies falling sharply due to the bans,” Tshivhengwa said.

Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s media liaison officer, Mpumzi Zuzile, said the travel bans had affected South Africa badly, with more than 72 percent of tourists from the UK, Germany and the Netherlands cancelling their bookings.

These three countries were said to account for 80 percent of European tourists who visited South Africa.

“People who were coming cancelled their bookings, because no one wants to pay more than what they had budgeted for.” Zuzile said that last time he checked, it cost an extra R67 000 to self-quarantine in the UK for 10 days after visiting a red-listed country.

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This week, Lindiwe Sisulu successfully returned from last week’s 24th UN World Trade Organization (UNWTO), General Assembly where she lobbied the UNWTO to back South Africa and other African states and called on the world to reopen borders.

The gathering saw countries from all global regions expressing their solidarity with Southern African states, calling for the immediate lifting of travel bans and for freedom of international travel to be upheld.

The UNWTO reminded countries that the imposition of blanket restrictions on travel was discriminatory, ineffective and contrary to WHO recommendations. It said that blanket restrictions may also stigmatise countries or whole regions.

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Sisulu also met her Algerian counterpart, Minister Yacine Hamadi. Both ministers agreed to co-operate in promoting tourism between the two countries. Algeria has identified tourism as a priority economic sector and sees South Africa as an important partner in tourism.

Sisulu also met her Mauritius counterpart, Minister Louis Steven Ebeegado, and both ministers raised concerns about the negative impact on tourism caused by the imposition of travel restrictions on southern African countries by some European, North American and Asian countries.

The ministers agreed to co-operate in influencing the UNWTO to take a stand against the travel restrictions. The ministers also agreed to continue co-operation in promoting tourism between the two countries and in southern Africa and the African continent.

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Last month, Tsogo Sun Hotels CEO Marcel von Aulock said that while the immediate damage to the country’s international inbound operations had been done, it was imperative that the travel bans were lifted as soon as possible so that the slow process of recovery for international travel could begin.

The South African hotel, gaming and entertainment group said that the tourism infrastructure in South Africa had developed and implemented excellent protocols to allow safe experiences at its facilities, as evidenced by the successful hosting of significant events such the recent Intra-African Trade Fair in Durban, which hosted thousands of delegates, including a number of heads of state.

Tsogo Sun Hotels owns and operates over 100 hotels across all market segments in South Africa and SubSaharan Africa and boasts over 50 years’ experience in the hospitality industry.

Tshivengwa said that while the sector was experiencing these challenges at the moment, the future of tourism was still bright because South Africa was a world class destination.

“We have to learn to live with Covid-19 and its variants and travel must continue. Travel bans don’t eradicate Covid-19, but we can do more if we work together as a global community,” he said.

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BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE

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