Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu convened urgent meeting to address SA’s return to the Red List

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Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu convened an urgent meeting with tourism private-sector stakeholders on Friday 26 November to address proactively how private and public sector could collaborate to mitigate the effects on the tourism sector of the travel bans instituted this week against South Africa due to the discovery of the new variant.

The stakeholders outlined how the Red List announcement and consequent knee-jerk reaction from other governments had impacted their existing and future business as South Africa enters its peak inbound international tourism period.

“Today’s engagement was the first of many we will be holding as a public-private tourism sector War Room to deal with crises such as that experienced this week, as well as legacy issues that hinder the extent to which Tourism can contribute to South Africa’s economy,” says Hon. Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

Acknowledging the positive impact of the joint approach by a community of tourism stakeholders preserving domestic tourism, Minister Sisulu said: 

“Our War Room will be meeting on a regular basis to roll out and follow up on practical actions adopted by industry stakeholders to deal proactively with the obstacles and crises that our tourism and hospitality sector faces; with the immediate priority to ensure that we preserve domestic tourism over this festive season to secure the livelihoods our sector supports.”

While we await scientific certainty surrounding this new variant, the impact to Brand South Africa and the deep tourism value chain has been devastating.

The immediate priority is to protect our domestic tourism over the festive season by instituting measured regulations that help to stem the spread of the new variant, while safeguarding the industry’s ability to operate during the festive season so that we can save livelihoods and keep the doors of tourism and hospitality businesses open.

To this end, private-sector tourism stakeholders provided a number of alternatives, including among others, reducing the size of indoor gatherings, expanding curfew and prioritising vaccination of South Africans to mitigate the impact on South Africa’s healthcare system.

Says Rosemary Anderson, National Chairperson of FEDHASA: “There is no question that South Africans need to go out and get vaccinated as a matter of urgency. To be locked down on a semi-regular basis and banned for international travel because of our advanced genomic sequencing capability and low vaccination rates cannot continue. We depend on tourism for jobs and livelihoods.”

Further, as we head into the festive season with a rising infection rate and the prospect of local lockdowns which directly impact the hospitality sector, Anderson calls on South Africans to do everything in their power to stem the spread of a fourth wave.

“We simply cannot have a repeat of December 2020 where restaurants and hospitality businesses bore the brunt of COVID regulations making travel and restaurant patronage unappealing and difficult. Our industry has had to endure being thrust from wave to wave for the past 20 months and it simply isn’t sustainable to keep businesses open and livelihoods intact. It is up to every South African to do their part and help us keep our doors open by complying with the protocols and getting their #jab4tourism,” Anderson concludes.

It is up to every South African to play their part in helping to keep the doors of tourism and hospitality open by adhering to the health and hygiene protocols that have been established and by getting vaccinated so that this industry, which supports 1.5 million direct and indirect jobs, may get back to business without the ongoing spectre of lockdowns and international travel bans.

Attending the session were key tourism industry associations, including TBCSA, FEDHASA, SATSA, SAACI and Cape Town Tourism, as well as industry stakeholders who had been involved in the previous lobby for South Africa to be removed from the UK’s red list.

Professor Marc Mendelson, Professor of Infectious Diseases and Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases & HIV Medicine at Groote Schuur Hospital provided a scientific perspective on what the next steps would be to determining the extent to which vaccines would be effective against the new variant.