After months of lobbying by a number of tourism associations and key sectors, industry heaved a collective sigh of relief, followed by jubilation late last night when Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, published a gazetted notice repealing three key COVID-19 regulations (16A. 16B and 16C) which have been hampering tourism growth in South Africa.
The general consensus was: “It’s time to get back to normal and start to seriously rebuild.”
“We particularly welcome the decision to suspend the travel restrictions for entry into South Africa, the wearing of face masks indoors and the easing of restrictions on public gatherings. Outdoor activities, as well as large social gatherings are the backbone of the local tourism industry. Many businesses in the industry are yet to recover financially or even get back on track due to the restrictions,” said the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) in response to the news.
Stakeholders in the tourism sector will now be able to fully operate and make the necessary gains in boosting their businesses, and the overall economy of the country, according to TBCSA CEO, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa.
“It’s about time that the country finds new and alternative ways to deal with the pandemic,” he said, adding that the TBCSA would support government efforts to come up with guidelines on how to deal with COVID-19 going forward.
Game changer for meetings, exhibitions and sports events
The 50% capacity cap on venues across South Africa was severely hampering the recovery of MICE industry, which is the engine room and driver that powers the country’s economic recovery post-pandemic, said Glenton de Kock, CEO of the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry.
Which was why the move to repeal the cap (regulation 16B) was cause for celebration, said Otto de Vries, CEO of ASATA. “We are delighted on the part of our members who are involved in events, particularly sport and business events, as the restrictions severely impacted on their ability to recover in a meaningful manner. All in all: good news.”
Carol Weaving, Managing Director of RX Africa (Reed Exhibitions) agreed. “The lifting of the existing restrictions is a much-needed boost for both leisure tourism and business tourism live events and exhibitions. The capacity is a commercial issue and it’s affecting all businesses. For us to be able to get back to some sort of normality, which in turn helps feed the economy, is really important.”
‘In line with first-world countries’
GM Corporate Traveller, Oz Desai, pointed out that the relaxation of the rules brought South Africa in line with first-world countries such as the US, which were the first to scrap COVID rules for travel and conferencing.
“This announcement will, without a doubt, have a positive impact both on business travel and on conferencing and events in South Africa.”
Sun International Group COO for Hospitality, Graham Wood, noted that the restrictions on gatherings in particular had been onerous on the gaming, hospitality, conferencing and eventing industries. “The relaxation of the regulations will have a positive effect on tourism, and we are hoping for an accelerated recovery in international leisure demand from our global source markets.”
Jessica Redinger, GM of the newly opened voco The Bank Johannesburg Rosebank hotel, was equally certain of a “promising boost in demand from international business travellers” who will feel more confident to travel to South Africa now that the last hurdles to ‘get back to business’ have finally been removed.
It would be with a sigh of relief that business travellers would be able to attend conferences freely and travel for work without additional admin or costly PCR tests, she said.