South Africa's hospitality sector went to bed last night with happy thoughts about the reopening of international tourism from 1 October this year. Almost six months to the day that the travel ban was implemented, the President announced the opening of our borders to international travellers and hopefully, to the recovery of the tourism sector in South Africa.
But, the opening comes with some strict restrictions and conditions - as it should, and travellers need to understand that they have a very important part to play in keeping our borders open. A requirement that every traveller must arrive with a certificate issued by a Doctor or travel clinic to verify that they are Covid-19 free before they will be allowed into the country. These certificates must be no older than 72 hours from the date of issue - something the travel industry recommended four months back. Notwithstanding this, those that arrive without the certificate - or who display any of the now familiar symptoms, will be required to quarantine at their own costs at the point of entry until a second test shows that they are 'clean'. That could pose some serious costs to visitors, and perhaps represents a psychological barrier to any traveller at this stage.
Earlier in the crisis, we predicted that tourism would reopen sooner than the crisis models suggested, and we have been right. But what worries us is the lack of preparedness that the hotel and restaurant industry displays as a result of the announcement. While hotels and restaurants have been able to operate in a relatively open manner since the announcement of Level 2 restrictions last month, there has been a total absence of most measures related to their ability to manage the virus effectively. Hotels opened in most cases, without prescribed policies or procedures required by the Health and Safety authorities, and there has been an embracing of the WTTC Safe Destination label that fails to verify the status of businesses before reopening. This could be a recipe for disaster and the source of a new outbreak of the virus unless the industry take a more serious approach to public health.
Last week we reported on the number of hotels and restaurants that were simply going through the motions in the belief that their actions would pass muster with an apparently incapable and understaffed public health infrastructure. Gone were any signs of social distancing, and hotel housekeeping standards continued as 'normal' in spite of greater awareness of the dangers the virus poses. Yes, debate around the veracity of Covid continue with daily claims of a conspiracy against our freedoms, but unless scientific evidence of these claims is provided, can we afford to become complacent.?
We welcome the opening of tourism - and we hope that the threatened second-wave never appears on our shores. But we lament the degree to which our industry is prepared to accept and embrace the risk in an effort to recover from the shutdown. Remembering that it was travel and tourism that brought this virus to our shores as a result of poor border control and health systems, we can't afford another outbreak because of our complacency.