Due to COVID-19 and the strict lockdown rules in South Africa, the tourism industry has been devastated. Over 1,5 million people are normally employed in tourism and for every 1 tourist about 8 people in South Africa are employed. Tourism also brings in R748 000 000 per day into the economy. As a result of COVID, many people are now out of work and the economy is vastly affected. To compensate for this, various tourism bodies are negotiating with government for relief funding and on how to open up the economy again for tourism.

On 30 July 2020, the Minister of Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, announced that domestic leisure tourism can now open, but only intra provincial i.e. within the province of abode. She also announced that the curfew would be moved to 22:00, but there is still a ban on alcohol sales. Accommodations can open for leisure travelers on condition that COVID-19 protocols are put in place, and only 2 persons may share a room or a nuclear family of parents and children. Tour Operators can also transport tourists, but only in open air safari vehicles.

The Minister also mentioned that the Tourism Relief Funds had been paid to 4 000 businesses, 967 of which are from the Western Cape. This was for small businesses with a turnover of under R5 million. The other relief fund for freelance guides, who aren’t able to claim from UIF or other funds, will pay out R1 500 per guide per month for 3 months. The 9,380 guides who have qualified should be paid by the end of July 2020.

The other concerns in the tourism industry are:

When will we open for cross provincial travel, cross border travel, international travel?

This is a difficult question to answer as no one knows. All we can do is prepare, so that when tourism does open up, we are ready to start right away. SATSA says it is HOW not WHEN we open. Here are some HOW’s:

1. We need to open in a phased, responsible and safe manner for guests and staff.

2. The number of active COVID-19 cases needs to be less than 5 per 1,000,000.

3. We start in a phased manner:

  • open up intra provincial domestic leisure tourism first
  • open up inter provincial domestic leisure tourism, including domestic flights
  • open up cross border leisure tourism with our neighbouring countries
  • open up international travel, first in ‘bubbles’ with direct flights to countries with no travel restrictions to SA e.g. Germany, Netherlands and France. In a similar way, SA needs to open up for outbound travel to these countries so that flights don’t return empty.
  • open up with other countries in Europe with direct flights and ‘hub’ flights
  • open up to other countries with few active cases and no travel restrictions to SA

4.  MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibition Tourism) is affected at the moment as no gatherings are allowed with more than 50 people. We therefore need to start with 50 people locally then slowly increase the numbers. Once international flights are open, start with smaller MICE numbers and build up gradually.

5.  We can also offer set limited tour packages to COVID-19 safer areas first e.g. CT/Garden Route 6 days and safari 2 days. Test how this is working and where we can improve on the safety of clients and staff.

6.  To include a lot of open-air experiences for healthier choices.

7.  Finally, we can open up fully and work on strategies to build up the tourism market to 21 million arrivals.

For all this to happen we need to consider some COVID-19 special travel requirements:

  1. Tourists are required to have a COVID-19 test, 72 hours before they travel and only those who test negative are allowed to travel. On-departure screening will be done at airports.
  2. Tour operators, accommodations and activity sites need to have clear and favourable cancellation policies that are flexible as the person who tests negative will need a refund.
  3. Travelers will need medical and travel insurances that provide cover for as wide a range of Covid-19 ramifications as possible.
  4. There is also talk of travelers having to have an app that records their health status and travel details, which will plot their location at all times along with being able to track the COVID protocols along the route. The Tour Operator will have access to this information as well as the status of transport and accommodations.
  5. Procedure need to be put in place for the eventuality of a tourist contracting COVID-19 in SA. For this, all insurances must be in place before they travel. The Tour Operator also needs to know where they can be quarantined and have access to hospitals. Airlines will also need to offer flexibility on return flights.

This is just a start of the planning for opening up the tourism industry once again. South Africa plans to be one of the leading countries in the world for safe COVID-19 travel. Our tourists’ health and safety are very important, together with the health and safety of those in the industry and all fellow South Africans.

All lives matter!