A plea has gone out to President Cyril Ramaphosa in an open letter to “provide certainty” about interprovincial travel during the festive season after Omicron travel bans wrecked an anticipated foreign tourism boom in SA.
The open letter was penned by Flight Centre Travel Group SA MD Euan McNeil, who said “knee-jerk international travel bans” imposed on SA had left beds and seats empty in the hospitality sector.
He is hopeful local holidaymakers will be able to fill some of the empty spaces.
“Our urgent plea and immediate priority is to provide certainty that interprovincial borders will remain open and South Africans can travel around the country for leisure and to visit friends and relatives, adhering to the strong non-pharmaceutical protocols that have been in place for more than a year,” wrote McNeil.
He said the tourism sector had, over the past 20 months, suffered from the “catastrophic” impact of Covid-19.
“During our third wave, largely driven by the Delta variant, leisure travel to and from Gauteng was prohibited.
“As we lurch from wave to wave, ensuing restrictions have not only prevented people from travelling, they have also eroded confidence. When there is uncertainty, as we are experiencing, the situation is exacerbated.”
McNeil said with international travel bans imposed on the country, domestic tourism would become the only lifeblood of a “beleaguered” tourism and hospitality sector which supports more than 1.5-million jobs.
“The international inbound tourism boom SA was set to enjoy over this peak season has dried up at an unimaginable speed, again leaving businesses with empty beds and seats which can only be filled with locals, and at the last minute.
“I must stress this is not only about encouraging South Africans to go on holiday. The tourism and travel sector supports a deep value chain with many of these businesses operating in peri-urban and rural areas where no other industry operates. Without travel, livelihoods are again at risk.”
He said by not providing South Africans with certainty in the run-up to the festive season break, Ramaphosa was leaving many people in limbo and wary to make local travel plans.
“We respectfully ask that due consideration be given to the impact regulations will have on the tourism and travel sector, and that all measures other than lockdowns be considered to stem the spread of Covid-19.
“The livelihoods of dedicated SA men and women directly and indirectly linked to the sustainability of the entire travel industry hangs in the balance,” he said.
The government is yet to announce whether lockdown regulations will be changed due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.