SIKI PETERS: Now we are talking about everything related to travel. They have been quite an interesting few days for the sector. On Friday night the UK turned us down in terms of taking us off the red list and onto the amber list. But we’ve gotten good news from the United States, which now says that fully vaccinated South Africans will be able to resume their trips to the United States again starting in November. This is after the country plans to ease the travel restrictions established about 18 months ago to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in that country, I think it is the country most affected by the pandemic.
But we’ll talk about what this lifting of US restrictions means for business travel with Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of the South African Tourism Business Council. Tshifhiwa, thanks so much for your time. I imagine this announcement must have come with some relief. How important is the US market for business travel in South Africa?
TSHIFHIWA TSHIVHENGWA: Well, this is a very important market and thank you for having me. Good evening to you and your listeners. It is a very important market. If you look at it from a tourism and business point of view, the ties between South Africa and the United States are well known. We receive a considerable number of tourists coming to South Africa from the United States.
This is the third largest market in terms of arrivals and spends a significant amount of money here in South Africa down the value chain. So it is an important market and the news that South Africans can now travel to the US It is also important because when it comes to travel issues, you want these planes that are arriving in South Africa to also return with enough people to sustain themselves and also to sustain the route.
That is why it is very important that we have the movement of people between the two countries. We have had United Airlines flying to South Africa, which shows confidence in the market. And we have Delta Airlines showing confidence to the market; and I am sure that South Africa will soon consider resuming its flights to New York and Washington DC. These are the routes that are quite important. We want more Americans to come to South Africa to spend, to make sure our employees can get back to work.
SIKI PETERS: Do you know when exactly in November things can go back to normal in terms of travel?
TSHIFHIWA TSHIVHENGWA: Well, what is going to happen is that in early November South Africans will be able to travel to the United States. But we have a few things to figure out here at home, to make sure that the embassy here or the US consuls general in South Africa, or the US consuls general, can issue the visas for those who want them. There are many people who want to go to road shows in the US or business meetings in the US, and visas can be issued. That is very useful because many more people want to travel and need to grow their markets. So early November is critical for us to get started.
But it will take some time to get it back. Next week we will see that the airlines begin to add more frequency, especially companies like United or SAA that are incorporated. It will show us that there is more demand. And of course the travel trade – that is, tour operators – will start to see advance bookings start to pick up. So we hope that the United States and Canada start giving us some of the numbers that we were looking for.
We will start to see some recovery and begin to make sense of the recovery strategy that we put together. The same will apply to Germany, the Netherlands and other countries that have opened up for South Africa.
SIKI PETERS: This may or may not be a question for you in terms of preparing our Internal Affairs to adapt quickly and ensure a smooth process to allow such a journey to be facilitated and resumed as quickly as possible, but have you had any indication or heard something that Home Affairs is ready?
TSHIFHIWA TSHIVHENGWA: Well, we interact with Home Affairs quite often to talk about issues of mutual interest that make travel easier. We hope that in these discussions that we are having, everything goes well. I think all the staff are always there and they should be prepared to receive tourists.
We just need to make sure that for those who will require visas, the e-visa system is up and running smoothly. And we also need to make sure that our consulates in the US and Canada can issue visas for those who need a visa to travel. We know that US and Canadian citizens do not require visas, but there are others who may require a visa to come to South Africa. So it’s all down to business, and we need to make sure they transition when they get to the airports, and that they can do tourism and sustain our livelihoods.
SIKI PETERS: Does it matter which vaccine you used? I remember at one point there were concerns around discrimination against vaccines and which vaccines would allow Western countries to enter their countries in terms of citizens who had been jabbed. Have you heard any indication that there will be that level of discrimination?
TSHIFHIWA TSHIVHENGWA: We haven’t had any prompts in terms of that information, but we know that’s something we need.
know, that there are different types of delays as to which is more effective and which is not. And we hope that the criteria of the World Health Organization will be applied in terms of approval of the vaccine to be applied; otherwise why do we have the World Health Organization, WHO?
Vaccines that have been approved by WHO should be able to be acceptable in any country for those who travel. If we have a situation that says that if you have been vaccinated with vaccine A you cannot travel, it will be problematic. It will make the multilateral institutions that we have unreliable in the decisions they make.
That is why it is very important that we do not get there. We need to work in solidarity around the world to ensure that we all succeed together.
SIKI PETERS: And so what impact did the UK’s announcement that South Africa would remain on the red list have?
TSHIFHIWA TSHIVHENGWA: Well, we weren’t expecting that kind of announcement; we hoped there would be relief, and we hoped that we would start sourcing our future UK book to make it look better, and that groups wanting to get involved would start making their arrangements, and those wanting to visit friends and relatives would make arrangements. Therefore, the decision that has been taken is quite disappointing.
That is what we have been saying: we would not believe that it is based on science; We believe that we have done our best in terms of handling the pandemic, and we should have been open, and we should be open, and it is a matter of time. That is why we say that the president must get involved. It is up to the prime minister. Yes, scientists must get involved because there has to be a scientific discussion between the two countries. But there have been many reports that have been put together in terms of the Beta variant, the Delta variant, the efficacy of the vaccines. Let’s use the report that has been produced by the same people to make sure we reach strong conclusions.
SIKI PETERS: Just one last question about business travel prospects. I thought the business industry was quite used to conferences and meetings through Zooms and Teams and all the other platforms that have allowed business to move forward in unusual ways. And I thought maybe that wouldn’t be a flare in business demand again. What do you see in your books?
TSHIFHIWA TSHIVHENGWA: Well, we think people want to meet face to face. There is nothing that can replace that face-to-face meeting and be able to conclude what you need to conclude. The restriction in terms of the number of people that can meet has had a devastating impact on the events industry. We think we should be able to do more numbers. We are ready, we have developed protocols and we should be able to gather a greater number of people, especially those who are vaccinated; we should get to that point.
There has been devastation from the business side. If you look at national corporate travel, you will see that there is not much going on, including government travel, because people don’t have those meetings. So we are encouraging businesses and governments to start traveling, especially here at home. And then we can encourage the resumption of international business travel. So we can have events; Sporting events as an example contribute enormously today to the hospitality industry and the tourism industry.
So we should be able to resume, and we should be able to get people who are vaccinated to go to the stadium and enjoy a game of the sport they like.
SIKI PETERS: I agree with you and I hope that day comes sooner rather than later. But we will leave it there. Thank you very much for joining the program. Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, the executive director of the South African Tourism Business Council.