CAPE TOWN - In a major setback for the tourism and hospitality sector in the Western Cape, global travel bans on South Africa will be devastating for the local economy which is reliant on international visitors during the December peak season.
So said the provincial government as the tourism sector, among others, recently received a hammer blow following the announcement of the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, and the subsequent globally imposed restrictions on South Africa.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the South African national Department of Health were alerted to the new SARS-CoV-2 lineage last week, and since then the country has been ostracised by the UK, which has temporarily suspended flights, while airline giant the United Arab Emirates suspended flights on Friday from seven southern African nations including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana.
Premier Alan Winde said health officials remained on high alert, but no cases were detected in the province on Sunday.
“This is extremely distressing to me, especially because the WHO has made it clear that travel bans are not an effective response. Our economy needs help urgently, and that is why I call on President Cyril Ramaphosa to announce an emergency financial support package for this sector so that we can save jobs.
“The Omicron variant is of concern, but no cases have been detected in the Western Cape as yet. We have seen an increase in cases in recent days in certain areas, but the genomic make-up of these cases has not yet been confirmed.’’
SA Tourism said the country was ready to welcome leisure tourists and business events delegates from all over the world. Inter-provincial travel also remained in place.
“The South African vaccination programme has retained a steady momentum, and as of November 25, more than 25 million doses have been administered. The country’s goal is still to vaccinate 70% of the adult population. The vaccination of 12-17-year-olds is also proceeding steadily.”
SANParks managing executive tourism development and marketing head, Hapiloe Sello, meanwhile said it was bracing for mass booking amendments.
“We have decided that booked clients from the countries that have introduced travel bans to South Africa will not be charged fees or penalties for amendments and postponements for a 12-month period from November 26 2021 until such time as the travel bans are lifted. Affected clients are welcome to contact our reservation offices to postpone their reservations to later dates. We encourage guests to opt for SANParks to retain their deposit payments until they are certain about their travel plans and to only consider cancellations and refunds as a last resort.”
The Restaurant Association of South Africa (Rasa) meanwhile said arbitrary restrictions would destroy jobs and cripple a sector that had yet to recover from previous lockdown measures.
Rasa chief executive Wendy Alberts said the sector was a major employer of the most vulnerable category of workers, and that half of the country’s restaurants had already been forced to close.
“The travel restrictions that have been imposed by foreign governments following the detection of the Omicron variant of coronavirus are a brutal setback for an industry on its knees after several rounds of restrictions. The government cannot exacerbate this crisis by adding restrictions of its own to the unjustified and unscientific panic response of foreign governments,” Alberts said.
Vinpro chief executive Rico Basson said the wine sector, linked to both international and domestic tourism, had been highly affected by the latest developments.