Just as the South African travel industry started getting back on its feet, the Omicron variant dealt a massive blow. Within 24 hours no less than 28 countries around the world closed their doors to South African travellers. Travel News spoke to some industry players to find out the damage.
Sean Kritzinger, Chairman & Co-Owner at Giltedge Travel Group said they have had a number of cancellations and requests for future cancellations. “We are assisting passengers who are traveling in the next ten to fourteen days locally and internationally and asking other clients to remain calm and wait for the outcome and more information so we can guide them appropriately.”
He said: “We need to wait for the outcome of the science and then make the right decisions for our travellers.” Kritzinger says that the trade and customers are possibly more prepared for this kind of disruption because of previous experience with country shut-downs. “They are more prepared to a certain extent but there is a lot more frustration and anger as this continues past 20 months and especially with the way Southern Africa has been unfairly treated by the UK and many other nations.”
Elaine Durr Operations Director at World Leisure Holidays said this was a very unfortunate situation. “The travel industry has been through so much and we really started to see the light at the end of the tunnel with the overwhelming volumes we experienced over the past three months. For the first time in a very long time, we had hope that all would be fine.
“As this lockdown happened over a peak travel period for South Africans we have given our clients two choices, either amend to a future travel date or receive a credit voucher to the full value of monies on file. Refunds are not an option as our suppliers were paid in advance for services booked, monies were disbursed to airlines and commissions paid to our agents.”
Said Durr: “There seems to be a calmer reaction to the lockdown this time round. We don’t see the same nervousness and frantic behaviour as before. We have all realised and hope this is a temporary setback and with the outcry around the world and the support from government to get these bans lifted, we have more faith that a long-term lockdown will not happen.
“Even with this bad news, today we have been processing reservations for 2022, which again confirms the pent-up demand for travel. Whilst there might be some hesitation the overall feeling remains positive.”
Durr said that agents’ commissions were a line item which should be protected at all costs, due to the work and effort agents put in to assist their clients under these circumstances.
No vaccine, no fly?
A travel agent who wished to remain anonymous told Travel News that the tourism industry would always be at risk as the virus mutated. “Knee jerk reactions have a horrible impact on travel and tourism and it is so frustrating to be back here again. I thought we had moved past this kind of panic lockdown. If governments react like this every time there is a mutation of the virus it is going to be a very long and difficult recovery. My clients are furious and upset, some have not seen their families for almost two years and as soon as countries opened up, they booked as soon as they could to travel. Again there are no timelines, I am being asked when can we fly again, how long will it take and I cannot give the answers. This really is devastating and I only hope that the world will see the science and behave logically.”
Said the agent: “We are going to have to learn to live with Covid in all its forms and must find a solution that does not devastate large economic sectors. I believe that airlines have the right to implement ‘no vaccine/no fly’ rules and protect our industry.”