There is still a lack of clarity about the regulations around South Africa’s borders reopening under the current Level 1 lockdown situation, and new questions arise daily, concerning both the inbound tourism market and how the regulations affect South African agents’ outbound business and leisure clients.

The #SouthAfricaisTravelReady marketing collective hosted a webinar on Tuesday, October 6 with tourism expert, Gillian Saunders, addressing industry’s questions. She said the TBCSA was currently compiling a list of the areas where clarity was still needed and would be raising these questions with the relevant governmental departments responsible for the regulations.

“The situation is very fluid, we have access to regulations, speeches and some of the Minister’s comments, but what’s written in law is what’s written in law essentially. We are trying to piece together the puzzle – or fix the aeroplane while we’re flying – which makes things very challenging,” said director of Big Ambitions, and one of the marketing collective members, Natalia Rosa.

A number of operators raised the issue of transit through high-risk countries while pax are en-route to South Africa. Natalia said that as pax in transit at an airport were ‘in a travel bubble’ there should be no problem – provided their negative COVID certificate was still valid on arrival in South Africa.

“We don’t think it would be a problem,” said Gillian, but she emphasised that details such as this still needed clarification by the government.

There is also some confusion about the COVID-19 certificates and how South African airport authorities will authenticate these. “The regulations currently say that officials reserve the right to investigate the authenticity of the documents,” said Saunders, pointing out that government had not offered insight into how this authenticity would be proven. “I’ve not seen one of these certificates but I know that they are often sent digitally and travellers could have them on their phone,” she said.

Travellers arriving in South Africa with onward connecting flights may encounter an issue should their COVID test prove invalid, or should they present symptoms. “It would be irresponsible to allow somebody presenting symptoms of COVID on another flight,” said Gillian.

An initial issue around testing aircraft crew had been raised with government and had been addressed immediately, said Barsa Chair, Carla da Silva. “As the airlines decide to start operations, we cannot have these problems and challenges,” she said.

Touring SADC

 Natalia highlighted a question that had come up several times, regarding tour groups in Southern Africa. “If you have a tour group and you’re going into Namibia or Botswana and you’re only going to be there for two or three days, do you need to take a test there again, because your original test will be older than 72 hours when you come back [into South Africa]?”

She said the regulations had been very unclear but referred to the allowing of multiple entries for SADC citizens doing business (up to 14 days of multiple entries permitted with one COVID19 test) and said she would imagine this could apply to South African tourist guides too.

Insurance

There are concerns around the need for travel insurance in case of additional testing and quarantine, should a passenger present with COVID symptoms.

But, Carla said airlines and travel agents were being encouraged to advise consumers to take out travel insurance. “Bear in mind that everyone will be screened on arrival and again at departure. So, if you were negative and are now suddenly positive the government is saying that you will be quarantined at your own cost,” she said, explaining why she advocated for the insurance.

Gillian agreed saying that while there were insurers who offered cover for COVID-related travel interruptions, it was important to educate consumers on exactly what was covered.

She quoted the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Naledi Pandor, who said a proof of accommodation booking would suffice as a self-isolation requirement. “We believe that’s the way you should do it. If there is a need to quarantine, you should be able to self-quarantine at the hotel you’ve booked at while you wait for another test result rather than being booked into a government-selected facility,” said Saunders.

Business travel

South Africa will only accept business travellers (not leisure travellers) from the countries deemed ‘high-risk’, but these travellers need to apply beforehand.

The government provided an email address for submitting this application but issues had been reported, according to Natalia. Another address has now been provided and can be found on the FAQ page of the South Africa is Travel Ready website.

“We have asked the Department of Home Affairs how long it’s going to take for them to approve those visas, and they have come back and said they don’t know,” said Natalia, adding that she understood the agitation of those wanting to come to the country and having to wait for this process. “The requirements for business travellers are very clear in the gazette,” she concluded.