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Ongoing travel bans could cost SA R25 billion and more than 200,000 jobs, says tourism group

Business Insider SA

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  • South Africa's economy could be robbed of R25 billion and more than 200,000 annual jobs supported by the tourism industry due to ongoing travel bans.
  • This is according to the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, which has called for an urgent meeting with the European Union.
  • In a letter penned to the EU's ambassador to South Africa, the council argues that "a person is as likely to catch the Omicron variant in Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, or Paris or as they are in Johannesburg or Cape Town."
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Travel bans imposed on South Africa following the detection of the Omicron variant could cost the country's economy around R25 billion, with more than 200,000 annual jobs supported by the tourism industry at risk.

South Africa typically welcomes around 685,000 European travellers each year, with the summer months being most popular. That was before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Throughout December 2019 and January 2020, more than 300,000 European tourists travelled to South Africa. This dropped by almost 90%, to just 35,000 travellers, during the previous summer season as restrictions imposed on travellers leaving South Africa were tightened following the detection of the Beta variant.

These restrictions were maintained for most of the year. The United Kingdom dropped South Africa from its red list in October, following fierce lobbying, which offered a glimmer of hope for the country's embattled tourism sector. But this hope was short-lived.

The detection of the Omicron variant at the end of November saw South Africa placed back on the UK's red list, with around R1 billion in bookings cancelled within 48 hours of the announcement. Dozens of countries, particularly those in Europe with guidance from the EU, followed the UK's lead.

And although the UK recently removed South Africa from its red list, thereby cancelling costly quarantine requirements for returning citizens, many countries which imposed bans have yet to reverse them, despite Omicron gaining traction throughout most parts of Europe.

These ongoing travel bans have been described as redundant, unscientific, and discriminatory. The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) has now called for an urgent meeting with Riina Kionka, the EU's ambassador to South Africa.

"While we recognise the rapid introduction of a travel ban was an early necessity to buy governments time to assess the Omicron risk, we are now calling for the EU to re-instate travel between South Africa and your countries on the basis that high infection rates in over 50 countries across the world mean a person is as likely to catch the Omicron variant in Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, or Paris or as they are in Johannesburg or Cape Town," said TBCSA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa in a letter delivered on Friday.

"Travel bans have become redundant in the face of this reality. I cannot overstate the negative impact this travel ban is having on our industry, local communities, and conservation efforts, particularly over our all-important Christmas holiday period."

Tshivhengwa explained in the letter to Kionka that, in a typical year, national income from tourism in South Africa is around R285 billion or €16 billion supporting 726,000 direct jobs and in total 1.5 million jobs directly and indirectly.

Acknowledging the initial impact of the travel bans, which led to R1 billion lost to cancelled bookings, Tshivhengwa estimated that losses "could increase to €1.4 billion [R24.93 billion] if the bans continue, resulting in 205,000 fewer annual jobs supported by the tourism industry."

Referencing a recent real-world assessment on Omicron by Discovery Health, in collaboration with the South African Medical Research Council, Tshivhengwa pointed to the resilience of vaccines and lower levels of hospitalisation with severe Covid-19 symptoms.

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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