Hospitality, tourism bodies hope 'devastating' UK travel ban will be lifted soon
Organisations in the tourism and hospitality industry have decried the UK's decision to place SA on its travel red list after the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant, and expressed hope the ban will be lifted swiftly.
The UK announced that from 2pm (SA time) on Friday, SA, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, and Namibia will be added to the UK’s travel red list as the new Covid-19 variant is under investigation by the UK Health Security Agency.
Passengers arriving in the UK from 4am on Sunday will be required to book and pay for a government-approved hotel quarantine facility for 10 days.
Direct flights from the six countries will be banned until hotel quarantine is up and running from 4am on Sunday.
Tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu expressed disappointment at the ban.
Japan, Israel and the EU had all moved to impose stricter measures against South African travellers.
“While this is most disappointing, SA will continue working with policymakers in the UK, Japan, Israel and EU to ensure that the best possible interventions are put in place.”
She said the decision by these countries took place before the World Health Organisation (WHO) could advise on the next steps after SA’s announcement on Thursday about the new Covid-19 strain.
Sisulu will attend the 24th Session of the General Assembly of the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) in Madrid, Spain, from next Tuesday.
“During this session, the minister will engage with her counterparts and ensure the world that SA is open for tourists and all measures are in place to ensure tourist’s safety.”
The Federated Hospitality Association of SA (Fedhasa) said it is hopeful that the temporary ban will be lifted swiftly as scientists unpack the extent to which Covid-19 vaccines will be effective against the new variant, named B1.1.529.
“The UK being our largest inbound international market, last night’s news by the British government has caused widespread disbelief and disappointment in our hospitality industry as we enter our peak festive season period,” Fedhasa national chairperson Rosemary Anderson said.
New variants are discovered all the time, often without making any major impact, and Fedhasa was hopeful that advanced scientific capability will find that in this case there is little to worry about.
“However, that does not mean that this decision by the British government won’t have widespread repercussions, not only by dissuading British travellers to visit SA, but also due to the likely spin-off we will see from other key source markets if they take the UK’s lead,” Anderson said.
SA's tourism and hospitality sector generates 1.5-million direct and indirect jobs and the new travel ban is a severe blow.
“There is no question that South Africans need to go out and get vaccinated as a matter of urgency,” Anderson said.
The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (Asata) said the ban was a knee-jerk reaction by the UK government that put airlines, hotels, travel businesses and travellers in a very difficult situation.
“The world will unfortunately need to learn to live with Covid-19 variants for the foreseeable future. While we await more clarity, there is currently no scientific evidence that the new variant is more resistant to the vaccine,” Asata CEO Otto de Vries said.
The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) said it is too early to tell what the impact of the new variant will be.
Satsa said it trusts that science will prevail and the temporary ban will be lifted swiftly.
“By imposing a blanket red list ban on several Southern African countries as a ‘precautionary' measure, the UK sends a signal to the world that they don’t believe their vaccination programme will effectively deal with the variant, when we have seen that Covid-19 vaccines have performed their role to reduce the severity of hospitalisation and death from the virus,” Satsa CEO David Frost said.
Infectious diseases expert Prof Marc Mendelson says there is nothing to indicate at this stage that the protection Covid-19 vaccines offer will change in the face of the latest variant.
Frost said the announcement was devastating for the tourism industry, not only because of the impact on British travellers headed to SA during the peak season as their travel plans are summarily disrupted, but also because of the message it sends to the rest of the world.
“SA cannot consistently be punished for its advanced genomic sequencing abilities.”
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