Plan to avoid Covid-19: five tips for booking a safe local getaway

Domestic travel is back — yay — but the realities of the coronavirus pandemic remain. These travel hacks will help you organise a lower-risk holiday

28 August 2020 - 00:00 By Elizabeth Sleith
Planes, trains, buses and cars all have their pros and cons when it comes to travelling during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Planes, trains, buses and cars all have their pros and cons when it comes to travelling during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Image: 123RF/Jozef Polc

1. CHOOSE YOUR DESTINATION WISELY 

Before you settle on where to go, check the local infection rates of the various provinces. Obviously, higher rates mean raised chances of your coming into contact with a carrier of the coronavirus, so it’s a good idea to avoid “hotspots”.

You can find up-to-date stats on all the provinces here.  

2. ACCOMMODATION COUNTS

The government has strict guidelines for how hotels, B&Bs and the like must operate. The onus is on the businesses themselves, however, to ensure that these measures are implemented.

When choosing your accommodation, look for indications that they are taking these guidelines seriously. Check their website or Facebook page for clearly outlined plans and policies.

If they don’t have this information online, call them and ask questions. Are they checking people's temperatures on entry? Are they enforcing the mask rule? Do they supply sanitiser in public spaces? What measures have they put in place to encourage social distancing?

A well-run operation should be able to put your mind at ease.

3. LOOK FOR A STAMP OF APPROVAL 

Another way to up your safety odds is to look for establishments that have been certified.

This month, the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA) launched an online portal and a free app to guide establishments through the steps and safety protocols required to minimise Covid-19 risks as much as possible.

These protocols, according to the council, align with the latest regulations, are benchmarked against international best practice, were developed through industry-wide consultation, and have been approved by an epidemiologist.

The council has also launched its own “Travel Safe — Eat Safe” certification, which will be given to establishments that register, sign the pledge to adhere to the protocols, and record compliance such as PPE and staff training, so look out for this as an extra reassurance.

The TBCSA has also been given the green light by the UK-based World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), a global tourism body, which launched the first international safety and hygiene stamp in June to help travellers identify countries, cities and businesses that have adopted a standardised set of health and hygiene protocols.

The WTTC’s approval of the TBCSA’s protocols gives the latter the right to issue the WTTC “Safe Travels” stamp to establishments within SA.

The Western Cape towns of Paarl and Wellington, and the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town have all been awarded this stamp, which they can now use to promote their various attractions with an added level of reassurance for visitors.

4. TURN TO TECH 

Several accommodation providers are using technology to help minimise human interaction, helping to lower the spread of Covid-19 — and your risk of catching it.

Paperless check-ins and digital menus are just two examples.

William Stephens, the chairman of Cape Country Routes, a network of accommodation and activity providers, says most of their properties have introduced off-site check-ins, where booked guests are e-mailed forms and indemnities, which are returned by e-mail.

Having all the information captured beforehand ensures a quicker transition from lobby to room.

A tented suite at Tintswalo Lapalala in the Waterberg, Limpopo. The Tintswalo collection of properties is now using an app to help with contactless interactions between staff and guests.
A tented suite at Tintswalo Lapalala in the Waterberg, Limpopo. The Tintswalo collection of properties is now using an app to help with contactless interactions between staff and guests.
Image: Tintswalo Lapalala

The Tintswalo collection of luxury properties, meanwhile, is using an app called Vamoos. Booked guests get a link to download the app before arrival, allowing them to seamlessly complete check-in forms and indemnities at home.

The app also has a message system for easy communication about special requests, such as dietary requirements, and there is hotel-specific information to replace room folders and menus.

5. TALKING TRANSIT 

Decisions will also have to be made around the means by which you will travel — planes, trains, buses and cars all have their pros and cons.

While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees with airlines’ assertion that “germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on aeroplanes”, it also points out that it’s difficult to social distance on crowded planes.

One hotly debated solution to this is blocking off the middle seat. While FlySafair has argued that according to research, this is “not a significantly effective measure in actually preventing the spread of Covid-19 from one person to another, as long as other important measures are being implemented”, it still offers the option for an extra R750.

The Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) reassures TimesLIVE that the "extensive measures that have been in place at all airports since early June" have been designed to keep passengers safe. However, while in the airport you should still do all the usual things — like keep your distance in queues and avoid touching common surfaces such as escalator handrails. Put your boarding pass on your smartphone to avoid having to hand over the paper version.  

Car trips with your own family and friends are likely the safest option, and of course your highest risk will come at pit stops. Try to keep these to a minimum with full tanks of petrol and by taking your own snacks (or stocking up extra at one stop rather than making several).

As for toll booths, the driver especially should keep their mask handy and don it at every toll stop that entails a face-to-face interaction, then pump the hand sanitiser again after every hand-over of cash or card. Better yet, get an e-tag and sail on through.

Modified to reflect ACSA comment on August 28 2020.