Scrap PCR test for vaccinated travellers to attract tourists to SA, says industry body

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PCR tests are expensive and create additional hassles, including when visitors to SA also travel to neighbouring countries.
PCR tests are expensive and create additional hassles, including when visitors to SA also travel to neighbouring countries.
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  • SA requires international arrivals to provide a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours, including from fully vaccinated people.
  • Local industry bodies are now calling for this requirement to be scrapped for fully vaccinated people wanting to come to SA, a move that could put SA ahead of its biggest long-haul rival, Australia.
  • PCR tests are expensive and create additional hassles, including when visitors to SA also travel to neighbouring countries.

The head of a local tourism body has called for authorities to scrap the requirement of a negative PCR test for fully vaccinated international travellers entering South Africa.

David Frost, CEO of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA), which represents the inbound tourism sector, says doing this will create a massive opportunity to lure travellers from important source markets like the US and UK to SA while the country's biggest long-haul competitor, Australia, is still in stricter lockdown.

As the tourism sector reels from the impact of the pandemic, countries are vying to be the destination of choice for tourism spend. Research by the World Travel and Tourism Council, which represents the private sector, indicates that having tougher travel restrictions than its neighbouring countries hampers a country's tourism recovery. 

Countries that do not require a prior negative PCR test from fully vaccinated international visitors include France, Germany, Switzerland, the UK and Dubai, according to Jacques Simons of Visas Zone.

With South Africa's peak holiday season around the corner, Northern Hemisphere tourists are seeking sunny destinations. The UK, traditionally SA's biggest source of international tourists, recently took SA off its so-called red list of countries for which stricter travel regulations applied. This was after an intense lobbying effort initially led by the private sector. SATSA estimates that more than 300 000 British passport holders could now decide to visit friends and family or take advantage of holiday deals across southern Africa.

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

That is why the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA), which represents the private sector, is calling for the PCR test requirement to be scrapped for fully vaccinated travellers to SA.

"It is just logical. If someone is fully vaccinated, it means the Covid-19 risk has been mitigated. This is the way the world is moving and we have to move with it," says Frost. "SA must make the move to position it as a long-haul destination which does not require a PCR test for fully vaccinated travellers. It saves them hassle and cost. Currently, it is akin to the hassle that was created when SA required unabridged birth certificates."

Many international tourists to SA also want to visit tourist attractions in neighbouring countries. Like SA, the likes of Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia also require negative PCR tests of not older than 72-hours, meaning even fully vaccinated travellers will need to do additional PCR tests, including before returning to SA. This is a major inhibitor to the recovery of regional travel, argues Bradley Gordon, head of aviation finance for Africa at Investec.

"We need to look at the issue in broad terms. The majority of travel companies sell SA as a destination along with a visit at the same time, to other countries in the region. The PCR test requirement limits their choices. Then they might rather look at destinations in East Asia as easier option," cautions TBCSA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa. "The issue is simplicity. It is a different matter to do an antigen test upon arrival, for example."

TBCSA is hearing from agents selling SA as a destination that the country will be losing tourists as travel companies are recommending places where tourists can go and also visit other countries in a region and then come back to the same country without having to do more PCR tests.

"We as the hospitality industry tried to develop Covid-19 protocols consistent with global markets to bring a sense of security and trust for international travellers," says Jeremy Clayton, chair of the hospitality body FEDHASA in the Cape.

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