Travel bans instituted by major countries such as the United Kingdom, Thailand, Singapore, Czech Republic, Israel and Italy could spell disaster for the South African tourism sector. Hours after South African scientists announced the discovery of the Omicron variant, several countries instituted strict travel bans to and from several Southern African states.
The travel ban by the UK, in particular, will hit the country hard. According to Business Insider “The UK has traditionally been South Africa’s largest source market for tourists. More than 430,000 UK tourists visited South Africa in 2019, representing almost 30% of all European arrivals. It’s estimated that UK tourists pump up to R790 million into the economy every month during the busy season.”
In an attempt to minimize damage to the already faltering sector, Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has convened a meeting with several stakeholders from the tourism sector. ” The immediate priority is to protect our domestic tourism over the festive season so that save livelihoods and keep the doors of tourism and hospitality businesses open,” Sisulu said.
South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) slammed the bans. DIRCO accused countries who have instituted travel bans of punishing the country for having good scientists.
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“This latest round of travel bans is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker. Excellent science should be applauded and not punished. The global community needs collaboration and partnerships in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.” the department said in a statement.
Speaking at the meeting with Tourism Minister Rosemary Anderson, National Chairperson of FEDHASA cautioned against repeated lockdowns and travel bans, warning that these would be disastrous for the tourism industry.
“We simply cannot have a repeat of December 2020 where restaurants and hospitality businesses bore the brunt of COVID regulations making travel and restaurant patronage unappealing and difficult. Our industry has had to endure being thrust from wave to wave for the past 20 months and it simply isn’t sustainable to keep businesses open and livelihoods intact. It is up to every South African to do their part and help us keep our doors open by complying with the protocols and getting their #jab4tourism,” Anderson concluded.