Tourism body request for SA’s removal from red list
SATSA, a body that promotes inbound tourism into SA, is lobbying UK parliamentarians and the British media to have SA removed from the "red list", with exorbitant hotel quarantine costs closing what used to be among the country’s most important markets.
SA has been shut out of the UK since late 2020, when a new variant of Covid-19, now referred to as Beta, emerged here. The variant is said to have resistance to vaccines widely used in the UK.
The British government put SA on a red list of countries, which means people entering from SA have to quarantine for 10 days and pay a hotel fee of just over £1,700 (R33,300).
The inconvenience of hotel quarantine and the cost means the number of visitors to SA has collapsed to just a trickle, which may be costing the country about R780m a month.
More than 430,000 British tourists visited SA in 2019, according to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, which advises against "all but essential travel to the whole of SA based on the current assessment of Covid-19 risks".
The emergence of the Beta variant led to SA being viewed as a no-go area by most countries, delaying a recovery in the tourism industry, which traditionally relied on key European markets such as the UK, Germany and France, as well as North America. In recent years, the country has worked hard to entice visitors from Asian markets such as China and India.
David Frost, CEO of SATSA, which represents 1,350 tourism businesses including Tourvest and Sun International, said that SA’s isolation has been greeted with a "deafening silence"
and the sector is taking the initiative because "we have businesses hanging on by their fingernails".
SATSA has fundraised R1.5m from individual businesses in the tourism industry and for the campaign and hired a London-based advisory firm to lobby UK government officials and MPs.
The emergence of the Delta variant as the most dominant in SA, while bad news, could make lobbying for the country easier. The variant was first identified in India and the fact that it is prevalent in other countries eases the stigma on SA.
In addition, evidence in the UK shows that the AstraZeneca vaccine is highly effective in preventing severe disease and hospitalisation from it.
Figures from SA Tourism suggest that 40,000 to 50,000 people from the UK visited SA each month in 2018, spending an average of R20,000.
With about 1,000 to 2,000 visitors a month arriving at present, almost R780m is being lost each month.
The industry is also counting on the acceleration of SA’s much-criticised vaccine programme, which may enable the country to take advantage of pent-up demand before its traditionally busy summer period.
The campaign to get SA off the red list is "bigger than tourism; it’s about all economic activity", Frost said.
Blessing Manale, spokesperson for the department of tourism, said the government is working with the department of international relations & co-operation and BrandSA to counter the stigma around SA as a travel destination.