Omicron’s travel bans hit South Africa’s safari industry

DINOKENG GAME RESERVE, South Africa (AP) – The recent travel bans imposed on South Africa and neighboring countries in response to the discovery of the omicron variant in southern Africa have hammered the country’s already harsh safari activities affected by the pandemic.

Tourism industry in South Africa has suffered a decline of more than 70% foreign tourists in 2020, with COVID-19 responsible for the drop from around 15 million visitors in 2019 to less than 5 million in 2020. Tourism employs around 4.7% of South Africa’s workforce.

Britain, biggest source of tourists to South Africa, lifted ‘red list’ travel restrictions over South Africa in October and safari operators were starting to see an improvement in the outlook for the holiday season and 2022. But then news of omicron hit, resulting in a new round of international restrictions on flights.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has criticized travel bans imposed by Britain and many others, including some African countries, as “hypocritical, harsh and unsupported by science”. He denounced the restrictions as “travel apartheid”.

South African safari lodges are experiencing cancellations and few new bookings, said Fred Plachesi, owner of Tamboti Bush Lodge in the Dinokeng Game Reserve, north of the Tshwane metropolitan area, which includes Pretoria.

With just four guests this weekend, Plachesi said his business was feeling the damage. He believes the travel bans imposed on South Africa are unfair and will have a negative impact on the South African people.

“I really think it’s very unfair for the country… it’s the South African people and businesses that are suffering,” Plachesi said.

He hopes many countries will reconsider their flight bans and re-allow travel to and from South Africa.

“The year 2022 was looking pretty bright as the borders were now open and everyone was happy,” Plachesi said. “We were starting to have booking confirmations. It looked very good.

But now it’s gloomy about the coming year. “After that, omicron, it looks like (a slump) is going to happen again like in 2021,” he said. “So the international guests and the rest then cancel. “

Among the few guests who stayed overnight at the lodge were South Africans Tebogo Masiu and Smagele Twala, who wanted a break from their schedule in Johannesburg. They said they were dismayed by the new travel restrictions in South Africa.

“For people running businesses connecting South Africa and other countries and growing South Africa’s economy… it’s damaging,” said Masiu, sitting in an empty bar with only company. his partner and the owners of the lodge.

“It’s unfair. They victimize us,” Twala said.

With bleak prospects for 2022, Plachesi and his business partner are trying to keep empty rooms ready in the hopes that at least local visitors will embark on a safari.

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