Tourism operators beg government to rethink rules as tourist season looms

Open letter to government takes aim at arbitrary and irrational regulations

Paul Ash Senior reporter
SA tourism operators are pleading with government to rethink the travel rules in order to save the R82.5bn industry from collapse
WAITING GAME SA tourism operators are pleading with government to rethink the travel rules in order to save the R82.5bn industry from collapse
Image: 123RF / Travnikovstudio

Tourism operators have written an open letter to the government, begging for a meeting to fix travel regulations that they claim are hampering the industry's staggering recovery.

The seven-page letter from the International Association of Hotels and Lodges — addressed to president Cyril Ramaphosa, co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma and home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi — lists numerous concerns around the regulations on SA's reopening.

These include government's “fluid” list of high-risk countries, the “arbitrary” distinction between business and leisure travellers, and the lack of administrative capacity to process applications from business visitors coming from high-risk places.

While the list of high-risk countries would be assessed every 14 days, the association said this would make it risky for foreign travellers to plan a trip to SA.

“The problem is that for most families, leisure holidays are planned well in advance,” the letter states. “If this is not possible, prospective holiday makers from abroad may choose to plan their holidays somewhere more predictable.”

Holiday makers from abroad may choose to plan their holidays somewhere more predictable
International Association of Hotels and Lodges' open letter to government

The association says if all inbound international travellers have a 72‐hour Covid‐clear test and then follow the protocols, transmission risks will be adequately mitigated.

The association said the distinction between leisure and business travellers also made no sense.

Before Covid-19, SA received around 15 million inbound international visitors, of whom 70% were leisure travellers and the remainder  business.

“There does not seem to be any rational basis for making the purpose of a traveller’s visit a factor in determining that traveller’s risk profile,” the letter said, noting that the distinction was also unconstitutional.

The distinction between business and leisure travellers would also affect whether airlines resumed flights to SA.

Potential business visitors from high-risk countries have to apply for permission to enter SA.

Given the 70-30 split between business and leisure travellers, airlines would likely not operate flights that were mostly empty.

If government doesn't do something to clear up the confusion , the consequences for out industry will be bad
Dale Smiedt, senior partner of Smiedt and Asscoiates Attorneys

Pointing to an alleged backlog of some 15,000 applications for business travel, the association said home affairs  did not have the capacity to process them.

“Implementation ... requires a support system that simply does not exist,” the association said.

While the chance of saving the traditional summer tourist season is growing increasingly remote,  tourism operators are still hopeful that a change in the regulations will help the industry recover some lost ground in 2021.

The sector, which employs 725,000 people, contributes 2.9% of the GDP directly and 8.6% indirectly, generating around R82.5bn in direct foreign spend and about R126.7bn in total tourism expenditure.

The situation is dire, said Dale Smiedt, senior partner at Smiedt and Associates Attorneys which is representing the association.

“If the government doesn't do something to clear up the confusion, the consequences for our industry will be bad.”

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