Scrapping SA from UK travel red list might just save local peak tourism season

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Given that the rand has weakened against the euro and the pound over the past 12 months, SA is now a very attractive destination, says an analyst.
Given that the rand has weakened against the euro and the pound over the past 12 months, SA is now a very attractive destination, says an analyst.
Boza Cucek / EyeEm / Getty Images
  • South Africa hopes to soon hear whether the UK is willing to remove it from its so-called travel red list.
  • The UK is SA's single biggest source tourism market and being on the red list enforces strict travel regulations.
  • The Northern Hemisphere is heading into winter and people are looking for sunny destinations, so SA stands a chance to rescue its summer season if the UK removes the country from the red list soon.


With South Africa's peak holiday season around the corner and Northern Hemisphere tourists seeking sunny destinations, the UK's so-called travel red list remains a thorn is the local tourism industry's side - but hopefully for not much longer. 

While not yet it official, newspapers in the UK reported over the weekend that SA will soon be cleared as a safe travel destination

This shows a change in attitude towards SA that tourism bodies have been advocating, says Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA), which represents the private sector.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the tourism sector contributed more than R426 billion to the economy and contributed in creating 1.5 million jobs, according to Tourism SA. 

The UK is SA's single biggest source tourism market. Being on the red list enforces strict travel regulations and means people arriving in the UK from South Africa, including locals, must quarantine for ten days in a government-designated hotel near the airport, at their own cost of more than £2 000 (~R40 000).

Since May this year, tourism bodies in SA have been lobbying for SA to be removed from the UK's red list, claiming scientific data on what the state of the pandemic is in SA is being ignored.

Two weeks ago, Tshivhengwa called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to personally call British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to enquire why SA remains on the UK's red list. Tshivhengwa estimates that the South African tourism industry loses around R26 million every day that South Africa remains on the list. Ramaphosa indicated last week that he had indeed engaged with Johnson.

For Tshivhengwa an increase in share prices on Monday of JSE-listed hotel groups Sun International, Tsogo Sun and City Lodge signals that SA's tourism industry is starting to recover and there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

"The Northern Hemisphere is going into winter and people are looking for sunny destinations, so SA stands a chance to benefit and rescue our summer season if the UK removes us from the red list soon. While this is the biggest short-term obstacle, in the long term it is how to make sure SA as destination is seen as attractive so we can get more visitors. We are up for that challenge of stimulating demand," says Tshivhengwa. 

Anthony Clark, an independent analyst from Small Talk Daily, says given that the rand has weakened against the euro and the pound over the past 12 months, SA is now a very attractive destination to all those looking to come back either on holiday or, more importantly, the offshore visitors who have family in SA or holiday homes.

"I would imagine, like we have seen in global tourism and travel, there is a substantial pent up demand," says Clark.

Peak season 

With SA's peak summer tourism period fast approaching, the latest forecast on bookings at Marriott International looks positive, especially since many countries around the world - including Germany, The Netherlands and Canada - relaxed travel restrictions relating to SA, says Volker Heiden, Marriott's area vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa.

"As we continue to be optimistic about the future of travel, we are also closely monitoring the international travel red lists for South Africa, and we are particularly concerned about the UK, these travellers contribute significantly to the industry," he says.

South Africa is one of the Radisson hotel group's growth priorities in Africa along with Egypt and Morocco. The group opened its second Radisson RED hotel in SA in Johannesburg in August and announced the signing of a new hotel for Middleburg, set to open in 2023.

The City Lodge Hotel Group says it has seen a steady growth in occupancy since the move from level three lockdown restrictions.

"It is extremely important for SA that the UK removes it from the red list. International guests plan in advance and, therefore, as a country, SA is losing that opportunity for travellers from the UK making their bookings for the December holidays, especially to our coastal hotels located in Durban, Umhlanga, Gqeberha, and Cape Town," City Lodge Group responded to Fin24.

Coherent strategy

Hamza Farooqui, founder and CEO of Millat Investments, says SA must ensure the safety of tourists and have a coherent strategy to create an enabling business environment.

"There are three things that South Africa's tourism has going for itself: year-round mild climate, welcoming people and authentic cultural diversity. But there are three things that go against it: an absence of safety, a lack of coherence between all tourism role players and the unwillingness to be open for business on a global scale," says Farooqui.

"All of these cracks need to be addressed if we are to rebuild tourism. It really comes down to government getting the basics right first. It needs to create an environment in which tourism businesses, particularly global brands, can thrive. We cannot continue complaining and waiting for the UK to open. We need to act and look for alternate markets. We can attract tourists from countries in the Middle East, China and India – all of which have a growing middle and upper class that is hungry to travel and consume our authentic offerings."

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