SA holidaymakers spent summers in Thailand before Covid – now it's all about Mauritius

Business Insider SA

 Lux Belle Mare. Image supplied
Lux Belle Mare. Image supplied
  • South Africans looking abroad for a holiday over December and January now have options, unlike earlier this year, when international travel was mostly restricted.
  • But South African holidaymakers aren't looking at the exact same spots as they did prior to the pandemic.
  • Thailand, which was one of the most popular summer holiday destinations, is nowhere to be found on the latest top booking data provided online travel agency, FlightSite.
  • Instead, bookings for the island nation of Mauritius have surged into top spot.
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South Africans' summer holiday trends have changed dramatically since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with traditionally popular destinations falling out of favour because of travel restrictions.

International travel is slowly reawakening after a long absence. This year has been marred by consecutive waves of Covid-19, the discovery of variants that have higher transmissibility rates, and ensuing lockdowns, all culminating in border closures or, at the very least, mandatory quarantine requirements.

See also | These islands are open to leisure travel from South Africa - and most are a short flight away

At one stage, travellers from South Africa, which was the first country to detect the Beta variant of Covid-19, were some of the most restricted in the world. But that has changed, and South African holidaymakers are now looking to explore international destinations during December and January.

"Against the restrictive conditions Covid-19 has imposed on travellers and the trade, the booking numbers show that South Africans' appetite for travel endures," said Rian Bornman, the managing director of online travel agency, FlightSite.

According to the latest booking data from FlightSite, some international destinations which were popular among South Africans prior to the pandemic in 2019 are still garnering major interest. But some firm pre-pandemic favourites have fallen off, largely due to ongoing travel restrictions and limited flight offerings, which makes getting there an even more expensive endeavour than before.

Thailand is one such destination which featured prominently in FlightSite's December and January bookings before the pandemic hit. In the latest data, Thailand is not even mentioned in the top-five booked international destinations.

Thailand reopened to South Africans in October, but only with extended regions in November, likely too late for holidaymakers planning a summer trip. And travel to countries in Southeast Asia remains complicated, with many regions still closed to South Africans or imposing quarantine requirements.

South Africans travelling to Thailand need to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Even then, holidaymakers will be restricted to "Blue Zones" under Thailand's Sandbox programme. A PCR test before and after arriving in Thailand also makes the trip that much more expensive.

Mauritius, on the other hand, opened to fully vaccinated South Africans in October, with three airlines – FlySafair, South African Airways (SAA), and Air Mauritius – offering direct flights to the island nation throughout the summer season.

While the island has been popular with South African tourists in the past, summer bookings for destinations like Thailand, the United States, and Switzerland have all ranked ahead of Mauritius.

This summer holiday season, it's different. Mauritius scored the highest booking numbers, followed by the Maldives in December and Germany in January, according to FlightSite.

Unlike Thailand, fully vaccinated South African travellers to Mauritius have access to the whole island. Like with Thailand, further testing is required during a stay on the island.

And although international flight prices are not any cheaper compared to before the pandemic – despite supply outweighing demand in some markets – travellers can still find good deals on packaged holidays.

"Usually, when travel supply exceeds demand cheap flights can be found. But the economics under Covid are entirely different to anything we've experienced before," said Bornman.

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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