Omicron Variant: S Africa Establishes War Room As Travel Ban Hits Peak Tourism Season

Johannesburg: The South African government has established a war room to address the serious impact on the peak international tourism season that has been hit hard by the travel ban imposed by around 20 countries in the wake of the new coronavirus variant Omicron being discovered. Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu convened an urgent meeting with stakeholders to proactively address how to mitigate the effects of the ban on the tourism sector.

Today’s engagement was the first of many we will be holding as a public-private tourism sector War Room to deal with crises such as that experienced this week, as well as legacy issues that hinder the extent to which tourism can contribute to South Africa’s economy, Sisulu said. Our War Room will be meeting on a regular basis to roll out and follow up on practical actions adopted by industry stakeholders to deal proactively with the obstacles and crises that our tourism and hospitality sector faces with the immediate priority to ensure that we preserve domestic tourism over this festive season to secure the livelihoods our sector supports.

Attending the session were key tourism industry associations, including the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, the Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (FEDHASA), Southern African Tourism Services Association, Southern African Association for the Conference Industry and Cape Town Tourism, as well as industry stakeholders who had been involved in the previous lobby for South Africa to be removed from the UK’s red list. The United Kingdom had removed South Africa from its red list only six weeks ago and did so again Thursday night last week at short notice, ending flights from noon on Friday.

The stakeholders outlined how the red list announcement and consequent reaction from other governments had impacted their existing and future business as South Africa enters its peak inbound international tourism period. President Cyril Ramaphosa, in an address on Sunday, described the travel ban as a knee-jerk reaction which was unfair and discriminatory, just because South African scientists had announced the discovery of Omicron first even while it already existed in several other countries as well.

Rosemary Anderson, National Chairperson of FEDHASA, concurred with this. To be locked down on a semi-regular basis and banned for international travel because of our advanced genomic sequencing capability and low vaccination rates cannot continue. We depend on tourism for jobs and livelihoods, Anderson said.

Delegates said that while scientific certainty surrounding this new variant was awaited, the impact to brand South Africa and the deep tourism value chain has been devastating. There was also a call for South Africans who had not yet been vaccinated to do so urgently as plans are put in place to boost domestic tourism.

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