Africa is finally putting the dreaded, and costly, PCR test for vaccinated travelers in the rearview mirror. In the past month Kenya, Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia and Tanzania all lifted the requirement for fully vaccinated travelers to present a negative Covid-19 test. And this week, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa also announced that vaccinated inbound travelers to South Africa would no longer need to present a negative PCR test.
The South African tourism industry was elated with the news, saying it would be a game-changer for the country and the entire region.
A costly deterrant to travel
Over the past few months, newspapers highlighted just how much of a deterrent the costs of PCR testing actually was. In August last year, a local South African newspaper reported that an American honeymoon couple was asked to pay a four-figure number for PCR testing alone.
The honeymooners wanted to go to Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to see wild animals and Victoria Falls, staying at some of the region’s best lodges. Each country required a negative result 72 hours before entry, and the remote lodge they’d chosen in Zimbabwe said the only way they could arrange for one was to fly in a doctor — for $6,000.
Tour operators, meanwhile, have been faced with the impossible task of ferrying tests to labs within the required turnaround times from the most remote corners in Africa.
It’s therefore not surprising that Sean Kritizinger, chairman of Giltedge, called the removal of the requirement for a PCR test to enter South Africa a blessing for tourism to the entire region. He said: “This forward thinking by the health department and SA government is in line with international trends and will enable a much quicker return to pre-Covid tourism numbers, when South Africa was in constant high demand. Our neighboring countries, too, will benefit greatly due to the main access airports into the region being in South Africa.”
David Frost, CEO of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association, and inbound tourism group, agreed and said the tourism sector had been waiting for this day with great anticipation. “The requirement of a PCR test for international travelers who have been fully vaccinated has been a major deterrent to inbound travel, particularly for those travelers who use South Africa as a hub through which to visit neighboring destinations, such as Victoria Falls,” he said.
For Robert More, CEO of the More Family Collection, the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding PCR testing has been the single biggest deterrent for visitors when considering a destination. He said that removing this for South Africa, which is so well suited to a post-pandemic travel experience (a low density, outdoor destination with leading standards on Covid-19 protocols), will be the single biggest step forward to unlocking the country’s ability to welcome back friends and family from across the world and therefore rebuild the inbound tourism market.
A blessing for business travel, too
It’s not only the leisure market that stands to benefit from the removal of red tape and testing requirements. The lifting of the obstructive PCR testing couldn’t come at a better time for the corporate travel market either, says Guy Stehlik, CEO of Bon Hotels.
According to Stehlik, 2022 is the year incentive travel is predicted to make a resounding comeback for the U.S. market. Although the first choice for U.S. corporates will likely be destinations that are closer to home, like Hawaii and Mexico, Africa has always been an attractive destination for incentive travel.
Stehlik says that recent surveys are definitely encouraging, with 84% of planners surveyed by the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) saying that their first post-pandemic domestic reward-travel programs will take place by the end of Q1 2022. Furthermore, 59% of respondents in a recent SITE survey said that international travel-reward programs will happen in that time frame, as well.
Says Stehlik: “Executives certainly can’t wait to enjoy some incentive travel again. In a recent SITE survey, a remarkable 94% of respondents said their executives were “100% supportive” of resuming incentive-travel programs in the post-Covid environment. For South Africa to capitalzse on this exciting development, it was imperative to remove as many barriers to travel as possible. The lifting of the obstructive PCR requirement for fully vaccinated travelers is certainly a step in the right direction towards a resurgent MICE year.”
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