A message to Ramaphosa from one of South Africa’s top travel bosses

As nearly two years of restrictions have decimated South Africa’s travel and hospitality sector, the industry and travellers need clarity on what to expect over the key festive season, says Euan McNeil, managing director of the Flight Centre Travel Group.

In an open letter addressed to president Cyril Ramaphosa, McNeil said that a lack of certainty around the level of restrictions – and when they could be introduced – meant many prospective travellers were not making holiday plans.

“We have been here before. December 2020 brought with it beach bans, stricter curfews and alcohol bans. Six months later, during our third wave largely driven by the Delta variant, leisure travel to and from Gauteng was prohibited.

“Over the past 20 months of navigating the catastrophic impacts of Covid-19, the tourism and travel industry has suffered the collateral damage of these regulations aimed at stemming the spread of Covid-19.”

As the country lurches from wave to wave, ensuing restrictions have not only prevented people from travelling, they have also eroded confidence, he said.

“When there is uncertainty, as we are experiencing currently, the situation is exacerbated. With the kneejerk international travel bans imposed on South Africa, domestic tourism becomes the only lifeblood of a beleaguered tourism and hospitality sector, which supports over 1.5 million jobs.”

McNeil noted that the international inbound tourism boom South Africa was set to enjoy over this peak season has dried up at an ‘unimaginable speed’, leaving businesses once again with empty beds and seats which can only be filled with locals, and at the last minute.

“I must stress that this is not only about encouraging South Africans to go on holiday. The tourism and travel sector supports a deep value chain, many of these businesses operating in peri-urban and rural areas where no other industry operates. Without travel, livelihoods are once again at risk.

“We know there are more uncertainties than certainties with respect to how effective vaccines are against Omicron and the extent to which the variant will impact the load on our healthcare system which regulations aim to protect.”

However, by not providing South Africans with certainty in the run-up to the annual festive season break many remain in limbo, weary to make their local travel plans, he said.

“We respectfully ask that due consideration be given to the impact that regulations will have on the tourism and travel sector and that all measures other than lockdowns be considered to stem the spread of Covid.

“Our urgent plea and immediate priority is to provide certainty that inter-provincial borders will remain open and that South Africans can travel around the country for leisure and to visit friends and relatives, adhering to the strong non-pharmaceutical protocols that have been in place for over a year.

“The livelihoods of dedicated South African men and women directly and indirectly linked to the sustainability of the entire travel industry hangs in the balance.”

Meetings scheduled 

The government is expected to decide on new lockdown restrictions for the country in the coming week.

In a media briefing on Friday (10 December), health minister Joe Phaahla said that the government will hold meetings on Tuesday or Wednesday (14 or 15 December) to make recommendations on new lockdown restrictions for South Africa.

Phaahla said that the meetings will include recommendations from his department and experts from the government’s Ministerial Advisory Committee. Ahead of these meetings, the government is not currently in a position to discuss whether the country will remain at an adjusted level 1 lockdown or possibly move to a level 2 lockdown, he said.

On Thursday (10 December), South Africa reported 22,391 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total reported to 3,093,452.

Deaths have reached 90,060 (+22), while recoveries have climbed to 2,870,329, leaving the country with a balance of 133,063 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 26,917,603 (+135,961).

Read: The end of South Africa’s state of disaster and lockdown restrictions is coming

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A message to Ramaphosa from one of South Africa’s top travel bosses