Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane has said that, with official figures on new Covid-19 infections going down, she was hopeful that “the opening of our borders will happen sooner than we were expecting”.
Speaking at the “hybrid” launch of Tourism Month on Monday at an event in Cullinan, which was attended by officials and journalists in person as well as in the virtual sphere, Kubayi-Ngubane said her department and the tourism sector were working towards the reopening of international travel. In a nod to the local culture, the minister was wearing a Ndebele-inspired outfit for the launch, which was preceded the day before by a bicycle tour of the Refilwe township and lunch at a local chesa nyama establishment.
Restrictions against local travel and tourism were relaxed on August 18, but the minister said it took a while “to convince the sceptics that the tourism sector could operate safely in the midst of the pandemic”.
She said: “Incrementally, we reopened subsectors helping to restore livelihoods to many South Africans who were destitute, while maintaining health and safety standards to protect tourists, employees and South Africans in general.
“Our next step is to work towards the reopening of international travel,” she said, but this depended on the assessment of the experts.
Right now she said the focus was on getting South Africans to travel safely and adhere to the Covid-19 protocols.
She also said South Africans:
· are yearning to travel to escape the lockdown and discover previously undiscovered local attractions with renewed appreciation of local culture, history and nature.
· have been cooped up their houses for too long and they are craving large open spaces and adventures.
· are also looking for affordable travel packages in which they can take their families and friends and have memorable experiences.
Kubayi-Ngubane said South Africa’s tourist attractions offering was diverse and would not only meet the varied needs of travellers, but exceed them.
Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona said during a panel discussion at the launch that about 55% of the turnover in the tourism sector was from domestic tourists before Covid-19, which was significant in helping it get going again. “Nirvana” would be to open up the sector completely to international travel again, he said.
One thing he did find encouraging and that caused him to “wake up with a better smile” was the fact that South Africa had this week dropped out of the list of top five countries with the highest Covid-19 infection rate in the world. “While you are in that list, you are on the travel advisories of many countries discouraging travel to your country,” he said.
Ntshona said now that domestic tourism was allowed, it gives the sector a chance to implement the correct protocols, because these would determine how international tourists see the country when it does open up for international tourism.