South Africa drops all Covid restrictions, and its travel industry celebrates

An elephant encounter at the Thornybush Private Nature Reserve in South Africa. The country lifted all of its Covid restrictions on June 22. Photo Credit: Thornybush Private Nature Reserve
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Dorine Reinstein
Dorine Reinstein

After two long years, the South African government announced on June 22 that it was scrapping all Covid-related regulations. Masks are no longer mandatory, limits on the size of gatherings are no more, and travelers will not need to produce a vaccination certificate or negative Covid-19 test to enter the country.

Not surprisingly, the consensus among suppliers is that South Africa's lifting of the restrictions combined with the U.S. dropping the antigen testing requirement for inbound travelers makes for a winning combination for travel to the country.

"It is high time to normalize travel, as is already happening in other countries around the world. We can now finally market and sell our destination without being hampered by government regulations," said Sean Kritzinger, executive chairman at Giltedge. "The news that the regulations have been scrapped is not only exciting, it is also hugely rewarding for tourism to our destination."

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The joy of South Africans following the announcement that they no longer needed to wear masks was almost palpable.

"Walking to the office today with my regular cup of coffee, I couldn't help but notice the happiness, smiles and relief on people's faces. What a great moment for us all!" said Marcelo Novais, Ker & Downey Africa's general manager for North America.

According to Novais, the government's decision to scrap all Covid restrictions brings a huge amount of hope for the industry. He said that dropping the PCR test requirement will enable more seamless traveling for clients, and the lifting of the mask mandate sends a message to the world that South Africa is back to offering its visitors a safe, friendly and beautiful holiday experience.

The rescinding of restrictions also enables South Africa to get back on a level playing field with other African destinations. The country has seen a much slower rebound compared with other African countries, especially in East Africa, according to Suzanne Bayly, the owner of Classic Portfolio. "There are just too many other options globally that are easier to travel to, and we hope that the withdrawal of these restrictions together with increased flight access builds confidence in South Africa as a destination," she said.

Paul Tully, CEO Better Safaris, said that Kenya's loosening of restrictions in March made it a more attractive destination for many travelers to the continent. Tully warns, however, that the tourism industry still has a duty to continue promoting good hygiene, excellent standards, traveler safety and responsible tourism. "It's onwards and upwards for travel, so let's do it the right way -- responsibly," he said.

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Given the importance of the hospitality industry on South Africa's economy, the lifting of regulations could help the country climb out of its unemployment doldrums; unemployment rates currently are above 30%. "We can now get back our lives and more importantly our livelihoods," said Robert More, CEO of the More Family Collection of lodges, boutique hotels and residences in southern Africa.

The events industry celebrated Wednesday's news, as well. Carol Weaving, managing director of RX Africa (the organizers behind WTM Africa) explained the capacity restriction was a commercial issue that was affecting all businesses; Covid rules limited indoor gatherings to 50% of capacity to a maximum of 1,000 people, while outdoor gatherings were capped at 2,000.

"For us to be able to get back to some sort of normality, which in turn helps feed the economy, is really important. This is a very welcome announcement," Weaving said.

Novais' wish is that even more African countries will take note. He says: "We hope this decision impacts all other African countries and that we can all move onto this new phase after a long and taxing two-and-a-half years. We know that a lot needs to be done to re-establish steady growth, but we are confident and heading in the right direction."

According to Travel Beyond's Craig Beal, the future is definitely bright, with demand for travel to Africa having been insatiable for the past six months. He said that the U.S, dropping the antigen testing requirement for entry already provided a phenomenal boost for travel to Africa, as guests were concerned about false or real positive test results keeping them from returning to the U.S. at the end of their trip. "Since the U.S. lifted the antigen test requirements, leads are up more than 50% from the same time last year."

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