Travel restrictions get mixed emotions

Travel restrictions from major generators of international tourists have been met with mixed emotions. PHOTO: Samantha Lee-Jacobs
Travel restrictions from major generators of international tourists have been met with mixed emotions. PHOTO: Samantha Lee-Jacobs

The list of banned traveller countries has raised some eyebrows, with some of the most popular tourist nationalities still unable to explore local shores.

At his announcement of the “optimistic” and “cautious” reopening of the international borders to receive tourists, president Cyril Ramaphosa announced a list of restricted countries would be identified based on scientific data, and would be reviewed every two weeks.

While South Africans are able to leave local shores to travel to any country welcoming visitors, the same is not true for most tourists wanting to visit South Africa.

These countries – including the United States of America (USA), United Kingdom (UK), Netherlands, Israel, France, India and Switzerland, among others – are considered high risk and travellers from these countries would not be allowed to enter SA for leisure.

But this is killing an “already dying industry”, says tourism officials.

Ronvin Fransman, owner of Grandeur Travel, says pre-Covid-19, they were facilitating more than 50 bookings for international travel per month.

“The primary destination (of choice by travellers) was Europe (western and eastern Mediterranean), second in line was the Bahamas, USA. Since Covid-19 and lockdown, there has been a huge decrease in bookings to Europe and the States. However this has slightly changed since we moved to lockdown level two,” says Fransman.

“Most of the popular land-based destinations and cruises have at least one of the banned countries as part of the cruise itinerary. Therefore our pool of options to advertise is much smaller this present moment,” he continues.

Fear, lockdown, international travel bans and a variety of other factors have encouraged locals to start exploring domestically, but key to the survival of the industry remains international tourism.

Responding to the list of restricted nations David Maynier, provincial minister for finance and economic opportunities, agreed that a different approach was needed in addressing the travel restrictions.

“The risk-based approach regulating international travel released by national government is a major blow for the tourism and hospitality sector in the Western Cape. The (sector’s) survival is dependent on international leisure travellers in the summer season and for this reason it is critical that we look at smart ways to open our international borders, especially for our key source markets, so that we can save jobs and save the economy in the Western Cape,” he says.

Maynier adds that some of the key countries, which generate a large number of tourists to the Western Cape, are among the banned nations.

“We have worked hard to ensure that Cape Town and the Western Cape is safe for travellers and ready to welcome international visitors, because our leisure travellers from key source markets such as the United Kingdom, United States, Netherlands and France make the most of our favourable exchange rate and have a high spending potential which positively impacts our local economy,” says Maynier.

The impact of business travellers from high risk countries needing to email and liaise with the department of home affairs, the two-week waiting period for review and the Covid-19 test regulations are all reasons for concern, as this may “create a barrier to bookings from visitors in traditional key source markets”, Maynier says.

“Indeed, it is unfair to restrict leisure travellers from high-risk countries as there is simply no greater risk of transmission based on the purpose of travel,” he adds.

Fransman says while bookings and interest have picked up recently, the unknown is still keeping many homebound.

“Pre-Covid-19 our focus was mainly to international destinations and since the move to level one of the national lockdown, we have started to re-introduce both international and local travel (packages),” says Fransman.

He says the opening of provincial borders has seen an increase in domestic tourism as locals try to shake off their cabin fever. They are also currently working on ways to further promote this through packages.

“It is evident that although we have these restrictions and leisure bans worldwide, clients would still like to travel for international and local leisure,” he says.

“When we moved to level one the enquiries and bookings decreased again, as the announcement of banned countries created a lot of uncertainty and protocol concerns.”

Based on bookings and interest, Fransman suspects tourism will pick up again, with many travellers’ habits indicating they are aware of the impact of Covid-19 and its prevalence for the foreseeable future.

Fransman suggests a dedicated website populated with up-to-date information and resources be established for the industry, where travellers and agents can be referred to.

“The information provided at this stage comes from different sources, which we always need to verify. We appeal to government (for) intervention to make this site and information portal available to us,” he says.

Any tourist entering the boarders will only be allowed at OR Tambo, Cape Town or King Shaka international airports, or any port that was operational during lockdown.

Travellers will need to present a negative Covid-19 test, download the Covid-19 SA Alert app and be screened on arrival.

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