South Africa could reopen its borders for international tourism as early as September, according to a plan being proposed by tourism industry officials there. 

The proposal is being presented to Parliament today. It has already been submitted to the minister of tourism, who will lobby for it on behalf of industry to the South African National Covid Command Council. 

Officials crafted the plan as a response to widespread media reports last week that suggested that the country would not restart international tourism until February. Those reports were based on speculative timelines for the reopening of inbound international travel that had not been formally adopted or finalized. 

The Tourism Recovery Strategy, created under the auspices of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), includes the insights from various private-sector tourism stakeholders. Robert More, owner of the More Family Collection; David Frost, CEO of Satsa (South Africa’s association for inbound tourism) and chairperson for the TBCSA; Margie Whitehouse, Wesgro (the tourism promotion agency for the Western Cape); and Monika Iuel, Private Safaris, were among those who created the plan. 

“Government is looking to us for direction and guidance,” Frost said during a recent webinar for the tourism industry. “One of the most important working groups was to devise stringent and comprehensive health and safety protocols. These were set up in the most collaborative way possible, seeing inputs from all associations and anyone else in the industry.” 

Uncertainty about when South Africa would begin to welcome international visitors stemmed from the country’s reopening plan, which detailed the phases of reopening but had not attached dates to when those phases would be implemented.

The proposed health and safety protocols are aligned with the latest World Health Organization, National Institute of Communicable Disease and Department of Health guidelines, according to Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of the TBCSA. They will play a big part in helping convince the government that South Africa’s tourism industry is a responsible industry that is ready to reopen. 

“The protocols are important, because they will inform the timelines for the reopening of international tourism,” Tshivhengwa said. “South Africa’s approach to managing the spread of the pandemic has been widely praised throughout the world. We want to ensure that when we are ready to share our wonderful destination again, we do so responsibly and through a safe, phased approach.”

Robert More said it has been difficult and frustrating not to have an exact date for the reopening of the tourism industry. However, he explained that the risk-adjusted strategy is driven by an epidemiological process, based on a phased approach. “As much as we understand that our entire economy works on hard dates, we have to acknowledge that this is a phased approach. We’re hoping for a Sept. 1 opening, but this is dependent on the phased approach.”

The proposed phased Recovery Strategy provides for an initial six- to eight-week Preparation Phase, followed by a Phase 1 trial period where “safe” source markets with similar risk profiles and stages of the pandemic are allowed to travel to South Africa. In a second phase, South Africa would further open key markets and expand the experiences on offer, leading to the third and final phase, when air access would be fully opened and the destination could restart its longer-term growth strategy. 

The proposal suggests a limited reopening to international tourists as the country moves into Phase 1.

In terms of air access, Whitehouse said that Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM, Ethiopian, Emirates, Qatar, United and Delta are all on standby and wanting to come back to South Africa as soon as possible. 

“We are confident South Africa’s tourism economy can be opened up safely if we follow global best practice and the comprehensive protocols we have developed. By opening up as close to Sept. 1 in a responsible manner, we will save the entire 2021 inbound tourism revenue stream and tourism in South Africa,” concluded Tshivhengwa. 

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