Travel agencies in South Africa are reporting increased demand from British travelers on Friday after the UK announced it would lift its COVID-19 travel restrictions in the county.
South Africa’s largest source of tourism outside of Africa is the United Kingdom, with over 400,000 British travelers visiting each year. That figure has fallen to less than 10,000 so far this year due to the pandemic, the Associated Press reported.
Following Britain’s announcement, one of South Africa’s largest travel agencies is struggling to keep up with the surge in bookings.
âThe minute the announcement was made, we could see on our online booking tools as well as in our email inquiries and phone calls this morning that there had been a big increase,â Andrew Stark, managing director of Flight Center Travel Group, told The Associated Press. “It was pretty manic.”
For more Associated Press reporting, see below.
The decision to keep South Africa on the red list had been criticized by the country’s government, tourism operators and scientists, prompting a series of talks between the leaders of the two countries and their respective health experts.
UK rules banned anyone who had been in a Red List country in the previous 10 days from traveling to Britain. Only UK and Irish nationals or returning residents were allowed entry from South Africa or other Red List countries, and they were subject to a mandatory 10-day quarantine.
The rules also severely restricted British tourists visiting South Africa, as their government had advised them not to travel to Red List countries and face costly stays in hotel quarantine at their home. return home if they did.
Rosemary Anderson, president of the FEDHASA hotel association, said she was also seeing “a wave of activity from South Africans wishing to travel to the UK and Britons wishing to come to South Africa”.
“We are entering summer, the UK is approaching autumn and many Brits have been unable to make it to sunny places, which makes South Africa a perfect destination for them,” said she declared.
South Africa’s Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu also praised the British move, which comes in time for the country’s peak tourist season to begin towards the end of the year.
“We look forward to welcoming our UK visitors in time for the South African summer season and we will continue to work tirelessly with all our national and international partners to ensure the success of the tourism recovery in South Africa,” said Sisulu in a statement.
South Africa’s large tourism industry has been decimated by the pandemic and the damage has been extended by the UK by keeping it on the red list, stakeholders said.
South Africa is the most affected country in Africa by the virus, with more than 2.9 million cases and 88,000 deaths reported. This is also the country where the beta variant was first detected. It has vaccinated 16% of its population of 60 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, and started issuing digital vaccine certificates that can be used by travelers on Friday.
All the other 22 African countries still on the British Red List will also be removed on Monday, leaving the strictest travel restrictions in place for just seven countries: Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.