Government ‘hopeful’ that international travel will open sooner than expected

With the domestic tourism sector allowed to resume operations under South Africa’s level, the government’s next step is to work towards the reopening of international travel, says tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.

“With the risk of the virus spread on a downward trend, we are hopeful that the opening of our borders will happen sooner than we are expecting,” Kubayi-Ngubane said in a media briefing on Monday (31 August).

“Again, I need to emphasise that the level of risk, as assessed by the experts, will be determinant of when this will happen.”

She added that the government remains focused on domestic tourism at present that this will be the ‘first pillar’ upon which the country’s tourism recovery will kick-start

“We believe that domestic tourism, South Africans travelling and getting to know their own country, can drive market demand to unprecedented levels.

“During this Tourism Month, we will be driving our domestic tourism campaign aimed at getting South Africans to travel and explore the splendour of their country responsibly, under the guidance of the health and safety protocols.”

Kubayi-Ngubane said that research shows that South Africans have clear preferences when it comes to travelling during lockdown:

  • All travellers want attractions and tourism activities with strict adherence to the health and safety protocols;
  • They are yearning to travel to escape the lockdown and discover previously undiscovered local attractions with renewed appreciation of local culture, history and nature;
  • South Africans have been cooped up their houses for too long and they are yearning large open spaces with adventures;
  • Domestic travellers are also looking for affordable travel packages in which they can take their families and friends and have memorable experiences.

Formal bid to reopen

Kubayi-Ngubane’s comments come after the Western Cape’s David Maynier said that the province will table a formal request with national government on the reopening of international travel.

In a webinar on Thursday (28 August), Maynier said that the province was currently focused on the reopening of domestic travel, but would table a submission to government around the opening of borders next week.

Maynier said that the resumption of international travel was imperative to the province’s economy as a large proportion of tourists are foreigners. International tourists, typically stay longer and spend more, he said.

“We are in the process of compiling a submission, which we will lodge next week. We will then be engaging with the national government to open borders to provide for international travel.

“We do not have any certainty about a proposed (opening) date at this stage, but will be engaging with national government on this issue.”

The Department of Tourism published a draft recovery plan at the beginning of August, outlining the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and how the tourism industry is likely to be impacted over the coming year.

The document provides a detailed breakdown of international and local projections for when tourism will likely open up, using modelling that takes into account various infection patterns and recovery scenarios.

The policy document notes that the reopening of international tourism and the country borders will not only be dependent on South Africa’s coronavirus response, but also 44 primary source markets which drive international tourism to the country.

Using this data, the department forecasts a global tourism re-opening in a wide window: between August 2020 and early 2021.

“This scenario assumes that the general observed recovery trajectory persists and that progress towards enhanced treatments for Covid-19 by the end of 2020 continue, with an accessible vaccine coming to market by the end of 2021,” the department said.

“Since indications of international border re-openings remain speculative at the time of writing, these dates represent the earliest likely date at which international travel will resume.”

The below model shows the estimated travel periods for South Africa’s primary ‘source countries’ for tourism.

  • The model is set between August 2020 and May 2021;
  • For domestic travel (travel within the respective country), the opening window is set between August 2020 and mid-February 2021;
  • For international travel (to and from the respective country), the opening window is set between November 2020 and May 2021.

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