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Tourism industry elated about scrapping PCR tests for inbound travellers

23 March 2022 - 09:32
Scrapping the PCR test requirement for inbound travellers has been welcomed by the local tourism industry. Stock image.
Scrapping the PCR test requirement for inbound travellers has been welcomed by the local tourism industry. Stock image.
Image: 123RF/anyaberkut

Tourism authorities are buoyed by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that the PCR test requirement will be scrapped for travellers to SA from Wednesday, saying it will boost the industry ahead of the Easter holidays.

Ramaphosa made the announcement during a “family meeting” on Tuesday night when he also announced wearing masks in outdoor settings would no longer be a requirement, among other Covid-19 rules that have been relaxed.

He stipulated that travellers may present proof of full vaccination or a negative PCR test result if they’re partially or unvaccinated.

The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (Asata) said while it welcomed the scrapping of “the onerous and costly PCR test requirement”, it warned the draft health regulations “will need to be reviewed and amended to ensure the PCR test for travel will not be reintroduced with the lifting of the state of disaster on April 16 2022".

“Asata has lobbied tirelessly for the past eight months for government to scrap PCR tests for fully vaccinated travellers. There’s no denying the costly PCR test required for travel has been a major obstacle to the travel industry’s recovery.

Although the draft legislation indicates vaccinated travellers won’t need to present a negative PCR test for entry into the country, there is a real danger with the proposed legislation that components of lockdown legislation are being written into permanent law
Otto De Vries, Asata CEO

“The requirement for travel left SA on the back foot compared to many other countries in the world that either waived testing for fully vaccinated travellers or allowed inexpensive and quicker rapid antigen tests,” said Otto De Vries, Asata CEO.

De Vries said the draft health regulations, which are open for comment, will need to be reviewed and amended. 

“Though the draft legislation indicates  vaccinated travellers won’t need to present a negative PCR test for entry into the country, there is a real danger with the proposed legislation that components of lockdown legislation are being written into permanent law.”

The draft legislation also stipulates that all people exiting the country must have a full vaccination certificate or a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours, regardless of the destination entry requirements.

“Research in other countries has shown the easing of Covid-19 restrictions has an undeniable positive impact on travel and tourism numbers.

“Recent research from ForwardKeys, for example, revealed flight bookings to and from the UK soared after the government’s announcement that Covid-19 testing would no longer be required for fully vaccinated travellers entering the UK.

“The day after the announcement by UK transport secretary Grant Shapps, combined inbound and outbound flight bookings jumped to 84% of pre-pandemic (2019) levels, outbound to 106% and inbound to 47%.

“We can expect a similar positive trend for travel to and from SA when the entry restrictions have finally been relaxed. We would therefore like to urge the public to highlight their concerns with the draft regulations to ensure the PCR test for travel is scrapped once and for all for vaccinated travellers,” said De Vries.

Rosemary Anderson, head of the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa said: “Many destinations have already removed the requirement for vaccinated travellers to furnish negative PCR tests.

“Accessibility plays a major role in travellers’ decision-making when selecting a destination, and the PCR test has always been a major stumbling block hampering inbound travellers, who do not always have easy and affordable access to PCR testing in their own country.”

Anderson said the cost and inconvenience of mandatory PCR tests are exacerbated if travellers are visiting multiple destinations in Southern Africa over the general two-week or 10-day holiday period.

“The news is welcome relief for hospitality businesses which are fighting to rebuild, preserve jobs and contribute to the economy.

“Mass unemployment is one of the biggest problems facing SA and our sector holds the key to economic growth and job creation.

“For us to realise our potential and be the catalyst our economy needs, decisive decisions based on science and global best practice are required sooner rather than later,” Anderson said.

David Frost, head of Southern Africa Tourism Services Association, said the tourism sector had been waiting for the announcement with “great anticipation”.

“The requirement of a PCR test for international travellers who have been fully vaccinated has been a major deterrent to inbound travel, particularly for those travellers who use SA as a hub through which to visit neighbouring destinations, such as Victoria Falls.

“Many countries around the world have already scrapped the PCR test requirement for fully vaccinated travellers and there had been concerns that by lingering over this decision, SA would lose its attractiveness as an accessible and welcoming tourism destination.”

Megan Oberholzer, portfolio director of Travel, Tourism & Creative Industries RX Africa, said: “In just under a month’s time, thousands of travel industry stakeholders will visit Cape Town to attend Africa Travel Week to reignite travel across the continent.

“SA’s decision to remove the mandatory requirement for a negative PCR test to enter the country bodes well not only for the event, which will be hosted live for the first time in two years, but also to position destination SA as tourist friendly and ready to welcome visitors.”

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