Tourism workers languish at home as Negative PCR Test remains in place

South Africa could lose as many as 400,000 overseas tourists this year, supporting about 100,000 jobs in the wider economy, if the requirement for presenting a negative PCR test on arrival for vaccinated travellers is not removed as a matter of urgency.

So says the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) which has for months fervently lobbied the South African government to align its inbound travel regulations with other countries which have recognised that vaccinated travellers pose little to no health risk to residents and value the positive impact that tourism has on their economies.

“Inbound international tourism is critical for the South African economy and it will rebound, but if PCR tests deter even 47% of the potential 2022 long-haul inbound market to South Africa, we stand to miss out on a possible 400,000 overseas tourists who would have travelled this year,” says Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO Tourism Business Council of South Africa.

“When one considers that the average foreign exchange spend per tourist, remitted or spent, in South Africa is R31,000, this is potentially worth R12,4 billion to our economy and would support around 100,000 jobs throughout many economic sectors. We have tourism people waiting at home to return to work and the means to make it so, but we need to start being far more decisive if we want to be saving jobs and growing employment.”

The disincentive to travel that the PCR test requirement poses is real. In the United Kingdom (South Africa’s largest source market), tests are typically £59 to £791, which for a family of four is £236 to £476 (or R4,840 to R9,750). Cheaper government clinic tests can be done, but often with 400 to 800 mile return trips and limited booking slots, which to all intents and purposes negates them as an option.

In the US PCR tests are typically between $130 and $180, with some clinics charging $3902. A family of four would pay the equivalent of R7,860 to R10,880, even more than in the UK.

Coupled with the inconvenience, and uncertainty, these tests and their costs are a significant deterrent to travel. This is clearly indicated in a mid-2021 poll by YouGov in the UK, which found that roughly half of British adults (47%) view the financial costs of COVID-19 tests to be a barrier to international travel3.

“Tourists from four of our top long-haul source markets – the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands – are used to a dispensation in their own country of no PCR tests required for returning vaccinated individuals. Despite the additional expense, they are irritated by a destination country requiring these tests for a visit,” says Tshivhengwa.

“We must move faster to adopt no PCR tests for vaccinated arrivals enable and facilitate business and leisure travel to and from our country as soon as possible. Allow travellers, resident and non-resident, to enter South Africa from any source country if they are fully vaccinated, while still requiring a negative PCR test <72 hours before departure from non-fully vaccinated people. There is no reason why this cannot be promulgated immediately.”

The reopening of international travel is a competitive global arena. Destination South Africa with its open spaces, lack of crowds, outdoor activities and warm climate, along with a myriad of excellent bucket-list experiences, is sought after in the post-COVID travel era.

Before COVID, international inbound tourism to South Africa vied with vehicle exports to be our 2nd (or 3rd) export sector, bringing in R122bn of foreign exchange and supporting some 674,000 jobs through-out the economy.

“To maximise this undoubted potential and get our tourism people back to work, we need this barrier to be removed for South Africa as a matter of urgency. The sooner we do so, the more jobs and businesses will be saved, or will be revived,” Tshivhengwa concludes.

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