Here’s when international travel will likely restart in South Africa

 ·9 Apr 2021

South African Tourism has published its road to recovery report, detailing how the sector is expected to progress after the Covid-19 lockdown, and when international travel is likely to resume.

The report shows that concerns over the 501Y.V2 variant has resulted in travel restrictions to and from South Africa, which has had negative short-term repercussions.

However, the group said that the early detection of the variant may turn out to be a significant advantage as the variant has specifically been targeted in lab and clinical trials as a benchmark of efficacy.

“This places South Africa ahead in gaining swift access to booster vaccines specific to the 501Y.V2 variant, which are in many instances already in production and testing.

“As the list of variants inevitably grows, the global focus will shift to how vaccines are adapting to ensure protection against Cold-19 variants,” SA Tourism said.

Despite this good news, the group’s analysis shows that it could take a year or more for some of South Africa’s key market to resume international travel to the country.

The outlook for resumption of international travel for tourism is still minimal, it said.

“The rollout of vaccinations will increase consumer trust in travel but the impacts of this on international travel will likely only begin as more countries reach acceptable vaccination thresholds.

“At current vaccination rates, this may only be expected towards 2022.

“International arrivals into South Africa are comparable to international arrivals into other regions across the globe. All regions are still experiencing reductions in international tourism of more than 70% compared to the previous year.”

SA Tourism’s analysis is based on a number of considerations in these source countries, including:

  • The total cumulative Covid-19 cases per million people and the weekly new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people. (Rates of more than 50 are considered high risk by global standards);
  • The percentage of the population with at least one vaccine dose, the daily vaccination rate per 100 people, and the estimated number of years to reach 75% of the population vaccinated;
  • Re-entry regulations for each country after travel to South Africa (as of 1 March).

Based on these metrics, SA Tourism said that the outlook for international travel in the medium-term remains low:

  • Africa: Of all markets, travel from regional African countries is most likely.
  • Australasia: While Covid-19 levels in key Australasian source markets are very low, these countries have been slow in rolling-out vaccinations and restrictions on re-entry after travel to South Africa remain a large barrier to travel.
  • Europe: The United Kingdom (UK) has the lowest weekly new case rate, although still > 50, which is considered high risk. With the strong vaccination drive in the UK, the country should reach herd immunity by August 2021. This will have a strong impact on demand for resuming pre-Covid-19 behaviour patterns, including travel. The outlook for travel in the rest of Europe remains low, with most countries currently entering a third wave of infections, renewed lockdowns, slow vaccine roll-outs and strong barriers to re-entry after travel.
  • America: At low levels, the United States is the most likely to travel. Despite a high rate of weekly new infections, the country is on track to reach herd immunity by September 2021 and only requires screening upon entry after travel from South Africa, making barriers to re-entry significantly lower than many other regions. Prospects for travel from Canada and Brazil remains low.

Domestic travel

While international travel is expected to remain subdued for most of 2021, the report shows that the local tourism industry is already showing signs of recovery.

Domestic tourism has seen a recovery in overnight trips of 50% compared to 2019, SA Tourism said. It added that a preference for travel by road as opposed to air is evident.

“Movement of light vehicles on South African roads is only 10-20% lower than in 2019 as opposed to the 60% reduction seen in air travel.

“Domestic air travel, however, is almost double that of regional and international air travel, indicating tourism’s current reliance on domestic movement.”

The group said that reduced income in the accommodation sector is linked to reduced occupancies and slightly lower average daily rates when compared to 2019.

Bucking this trend are the segments of Caravan & Camping and Guest Houses & Farms, who have maintained their average daily rates, while still seeing a recovery in bookings, it said.

“To regain tourism low weekly infection rates and an effective vaccine roll-out are essential.

“South Africa’s weekly case rates are well below the globally accepted high-risk threshold. The key focus needs to be the efficient roll-out of the vaccine.”

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