Tourism body calls for calm as travel ban caused by coronavirus takes effect

17 March 2020 - 08:51
A tourism business body has called for calm as a travel ban imposed by government to counter the spread of coronavirus takes effect.
Image: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES A tourism business body has called for calm as a travel ban imposed by government to counter the spread of coronavirus takes effect.

The travel ban imposed by government as part of “extraordinary measures” to reduce the impact of coronavirus will have dire results for SA’s inbound tourism private sector and its international partners.

The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) made this comment after the decision announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday.

It entails imposing travel bans, from Wednesday, to and from high-risk countries, including South Korea, Italy, Iran, Spain, Germany, USA, UK and China.

The ban also entails the cancellation of visas granted to citizens from high-risk destinations and any foreigners who visited a high-risk country will be denied a visa.

Satsa communication manager Natalia Rosa said there had been an increase in the number of cancellations of bookings from people coming to SA and from South Africans who planned to travel overseas.

However, Rosa said it was too early to judge the impact of the ban on foreigners travelling to SA.

“We have just released a survey to our members to try to understand the rands and cents impact of the coronavirus. We do not have that information currently,” she said.

Rosa said every tour operator would have had some form of cancellation and rebooking policy in place.

She said with the announcement of the travel ban, operators should relook at their cancellation policies.

Tour operators and others would try to encourage travellers not to cancel, but to postpone, their travels to SA, she said.

Legacy Hotels and Resorts said since the initial cases of Covid-19 were recorded, there had been cancellations from overseas travellers.

Legacy marketing manager Robert Hodson said the cancellations increased on Monday after Ramaphosa's announcement. He could not give the number of cancellations in the group's 22 hotels and resorts, 18 of which are in SA.

Satsa said despite the bans, the tourism industry remained committed to responding proactively and would do everything it could to safeguard travellers and customers. “We face a difficult challenge as an industry to respond to this continuously evolving situation.

“Our only defence is to monitor the situation around the clock and put in place proactive measures and flexible policies to assist travellers, members and their customers, so that when the situation returns to some normality, SA is open for business and ready to welcome the world,” Satsa CEO David Frost said.

He said while Satsa understood that the government decision was difficult and supported any measures aimed at keeping its citizens safe, the industry could not allow itself to be overwhelmed by panic.

For those travellers who chose to continue with their travels, the association urged  tourism stakeholders to remind their customers to practise the basic hygiene advice stipulated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to mitigate the spread of the disease.

The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (Asata) said it respected and understood Ramaphosa’s decision.

Otto de Vries, Asata CEO, said the association awaited further details, such as timelines about when the government would re-evaluate the travel recommendations, to assess the implications for the outbound tourism industry.

“We look forward to engaging with the government [this week]. We will work collectively with the private sector to limit the impact on the travel industry.”