South Africa facing long wait for international travel to reopen

The crash in international tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic could cause a loss of more than $4 trillion to the global GDP for the years 2020 and 2021, says the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad).

In a report published this week, the agency said that the world is unlikely to reach pre-Covid-19 international tourist arrival levels until 2023 or later.

Much of the tourism sector’s recovery will largely depend on the uptake of Covid-19 vaccines globally, with developing countries with slow rollouts such as South Africa expected to see prolonged tourism losses.

“Covid-19 vaccination rates are uneven across countries, ranging from below 1% of the population in some countries to above 60% in others,” Unctad said.

“The asymmetric roll-out of vaccines magnifies the economic blow tourism has suffered in developing countries, as they could account for up to 60% of the global GDP losses.”

By comparison, the tourism sector is expected to recover faster in countries with high vaccination rates, such as France, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

South Africa forecast to be one of the hardest-hit countries

As part of its report, Unctad developed three different scenarios on what international travel recovery could look like in the coming years

The results are based on simulations that capture the effects of international tourism reduction only, not policies such as economic stimulus programmes that may soften the pandemic’s impact on the sector.

  • The first and most pessimistic scenario reflects a reduction of 75% in international tourist arrivals based on the tourist reductions observed in 2020;
  • The second and middle scenario reflects a 63% reduction in international tourist arrivals;
  • The third scenario considers varying rates of domestic and regional tourism in 2021. It assumes a 75% reduction of tourism in countries with low vaccination rates, and a 37% reduction in countries with relatively high vaccination rates, mostly developed countries and some smaller economies.

Based on all three scenarios, South Africa is forecast to be one of the countries hardest hit when looking at estimated losses in GDP from a reduction in tourism.

The country was consistently ranked third – behind Turkey and Ecuador – in all three scenarios.

The main barriers are seen to be:

  • Ongoing travel restrictions;
  • Slow containment of the virus;
  • Low traveller confidence;
  • A poor economic environment.

Lockdown restrictions

Under South Africa’s adjusted level 4 lockdown restrictions air travel is restricted to the following airports in South Africa:

  • OR Tambo International Airport
  • King Shaka International Airport
  • Cape Town International Airport
  • Lanseria International Airport
  • Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport

While the government does not have major regulations on tourists travelling into the country, outside of existing lockdown regulations, South Africans looking to leave the country continue to face major restrictions.

In addition, a number of foreign governments continue to advise against or prohibit travel to South Africa.

A number of source travel markets have also kept restrictions on South Africa in place over fears of possible variant transmission – including the UK and large parts of the European Union.

While the US has lowered restrictions in recent weeks, the country’s health authorities still advise against unnecessary travel to South Africa.

mapping tool developed by travel website Skyscanner shows that as of 2 July, South Africa has 82 ‘major restrictions’ from other countries in place. This is up from around 60 major restrictions before the third Covid wave hit.

These countries have suspended travel, may be closed to entry, or entry may only be possible if you are a citizen/meet strict entrance requirements.

By comparison, there are currently 30 moderate restrictions in place for South Africa, where travel is possible, but only if travellers meet certain entry requirements which can include taking Covid-19 tests.


Read: Here is the full list of services available at Home Affairs under South Africa’s level 4 lockdown

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South Africa facing long wait for international travel to reopen