The battle to reopen South Africa’s borders to regional and international travellers has been won by the battered tourism and hospitality industry.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Wednesday night that international business, leisure and other forms of travel will be permitted as of October 1, but under strict conditions.
International travel in and out of the country has effectively been banned since late March due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. Ramaphosa’s much anticipated announcement has been widely welcomed by the tourism industry and business bodies.
“We have fought hard to get this and are over the moon because it represents a major step in the road to recovery of the tourism sector, which has been the worst affected industry from the Covid-19 economic fallout,” Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) told Moneyweb.
“What this means is that South Africa’s 2020/21 international tourist summer season may just have been saved. As an industry we campaigned for the international travel ban to be lifted from September 1 due to the sharp decline in Covid-19 infections,” he said.
“It (the decision) has come a month later, but thankfully we still have time to try to save what’s left of 2020 and importantly the summer season running into February next year…. We are not going to suddenly see an influx of foreign tourists, but the announcement means that those wanting to travel have time to book to still make it for the summer,” added Tshivhengwa.
“We believe international, regional and domestic tourists can travel safely in South Africa, with the industry and country having the right health protocols in place…. What we need to do now is to get the message out that South Africa is travel ready – we are open for international tourists and business from October,” he stressed.
Graham Wood, group COO for hospitality at Sun International, said the move to gradually “open up” international travel is “a good sign and a step in the right direction”. However, he was cautious on how much demand there will be.
“Despite the president’s announcement, there are still just too many variables…. Travel to South Africa is also dependent on what happens in our key tourist source markets in terms of their Covid-19 travel rules and restrictions. South Africa may be seen as high risk,” he noted.
“Nevertheless, the move is a positive one…. We hope now that the peak international tourist season in February, especially in Cape Town, can be saved. Sun International now plans to reopen our Table Bay Hotel from November 1, while The Maslow Hotel in Sandton will reopen from October,” Wood added.
He also welcomed Ramaphosa’s announcement that the curfew would move to midnight as of next Monday, as well as the increase in the number of people allowed at gatherings.
“This is very good news, especially for our casinos and other hospitality offerings that will benefit from more time to trade…. The announcement around gatherings [250 people allowed for indoor events and 500 for outdoor events] means that we can also start some of our conferencing business again,” said Wood.
Marcel Von Aulock, CEO of Tsogo Sun Hotels remarked: “We are really relieved that the government has taken the decision to open up more of the economy, especially international travel and larger allowances for events and conferences.”
However, he echoed his previous comments to Moneyweb that it will take years for the tourism and hospitality industry to recover from the Covid-19 crunch.
“It will be some time before we see how demand builds but the sooner we start the sooner we can get to more reasonable levels of trading and lifting the regulations is the most important first step,” he said.
Bart Dorrestein, hotel magnate and founder of the Legacy Group, said lifting the international travel ban is great news. However, he also warned that “it will take a few months” before hotel bookings by international tourists to South Africa pick up.
Legacy’s landmark properties include the Michelangelo Hotel and the new 55-storey Leonardo tower in Sandton. In Cape Town it operates the Commodore and Portswood hotels in the V&A Waterfront.
“My gut feel is that we will see a big improvement in international bookings in Cape Town from mid-December… Traditionally between 50% to 60% of the Legacy group’s guests are foreign leisure or business tourists, so our hotels are still operating at limited capacity,” he said.
“We are not going to see boom times anytime soon, but the president’s announcement around international travel sends the right message and will hopefully see SA benefit from opening up ahead of other countries,” added Dorrestein.
On Thursday most JSE-listed hospitality groups saw share price rises, following Ramaphosa’s announcement on the lifting of South Africa’s international bans the night before.
Sun International surged almost 9%, while both City Lodge Hotel Group and Tsogo Sun Hotels were up over 5%. Liberty Two Degrees (L2D), the property fund that jointly owns Sandton City shopping centre, Sandton Convention Centre and three hotels in the Sandton Central precinct, gained almost 4.5%.
“We are happy about the move to Level 1 which will see more industries reopen, providing great support to the economy as well as our precincts, our Sandton hotels, retail assets and restaurants in our portfolio,” L2D’s CEO Amelia Beattie told Moneyweb.
She acknowledged the challenging period presented by the pandemic, however, she said that the focus would now move to towards rebuilding the country and taking advantage of opportunities around the reopened economy.