New bid to reopen international travel in South Africa

The Western Cape’s provincial minister of Finance and Economic Opportunities David Maynier says that the province will table a formal request with national government on the reopening of international travel.

In a webinar on Thursday (28 August), Maynier said that the province was currently focused on the reopening of domestic travel, but would table a submission to government around the opening of borders next week.

Maynier said that the resumption of international travel was imperative to the province’s economy as a large proportion of tourists are foreigners. International tourists, typically stay longer and spend more, he said.

“We are in the process of compiling a submission, which we will lodge next week. We will then be engaging with the national government to open borders to provide for international travel.

“We do not have any certainty about a proposed (opening) date at this stage, but will be engaging with national government on this issue.”

All long-distance intra-provincial and inter-provincial travel by private vehicles and public transport services is permitted under South Africa’s level 2 restrictions which were introduced on 18 August.

Government has also reopened a number of airports and South Africans are now allowed to travel to accommodation venues for tourism purposes.

In a research note this week, the Bureau of Economic Research (BER) at the University of Stellenbosch said that an announcement on international travel – so that foreigners can start planning and booking trips to South Africa – will go a long way in aiding South Africa’s economic recovery.

The BER said that the opening of borders was vital for the local economy, highlighting tourism data published by Statistics South Africa last week which showed that industry came to a near standstill amid the Covid-19 induced lockdown measures.

However, given that the recent resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe is largely blamed on international travel and social gatherings for leisure purposes, the group said this may still be some months away, it said.

The Department of Tourism published a draft recovery plan at the beginning of August, outlining the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and how the tourism industry is likely to be impacted over the coming year.

The document provides a detailed breakdown of international and local projections for when tourism will likely open up, using modelling that takes into account various infection patterns and recovery scenarios.

The policy document notes that the reopening of international tourism and the country borders will not only be dependent on South Africa’s coronavirus response, but also 44 primary source markets which drive international tourism to the country.

Using this data, the department forecasts a global tourism re-opening in a wide window: between August 2020 and early 2021.

“This scenario assumes that the general observed recovery trajectory persists and that progress towards enhanced treatments for Covid-19 by the end of 2020 continue, with an accessible vaccine coming to market by the end of 2021,” the department said.

“Since indications of international border re-openings remain speculative at the time of writing, these dates represent the earliest likely date at which international travel will resume.”

The below model shows the estimated travel periods for South Africa’s primary ‘source countries’  for tourism.

  • The model is set between August 2020 and May 2021;
  • For domestic travel (travel within the respective country), the opening window is set between August 2020 and mid-February 2021;
  • For international travel (to and from the respective country), the opening window is set between November 2020 and May 2021.

While the above model provides a positive picture globally, the risk of localised or global reinfection waves continue to threaten the global economic recovery and the strength and consistency of projected recoveries therefore come with low levels of certainty.

For this reason, the department provided two further global scenarios:

  • A more fragile recovery that contains isolated setbacks and takes longer, but still reflects an extension of the current global trajectory;
  • A prolonged pandemic where the search for a vaccine proves elusive, herd immunity does not successfully contain transmission and multiple re-infection waves result.

Under the first of these scenarios, the time frame for early Asian/Australasian re-opening moves from July/August 2020 to November 2020, while core markets (the UK, Germany and the US) can only be expected to return after April 2021.

The second scenario paints an even bleaker picture, with international outbound travel from Asia picking up between May and July 2021 and travel from core markets only returning from November 2021.

Read: Government to review rules around hiring foreign workers in South Africa

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New bid to reopen international travel in South Africa