September 26, 2022

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Just Do Travel

South Africa’s Travel Agents Say Business Screeched to a Halt Over Omicron

3 min read

Skift Take

Not only did the travel bans force widespread cancellations for South Africans planning to go abroad during the country’s summer, but they may also represent the death knell for many tourism businesses that had already been significantly hit hard by the initial blast of Covid.

South African travel agents were optimistic several weeks ago about a strong summer season, largely because the worst of the pandemic was seemingly behind them as countries like the United States had reopened to visitors from the country.

But the emergence of the Omicron variant and the widespread travel bans enacted by numerous countries in its wake targeting visitors from South Africa and its neighbors have killed any likelihood for an immediate rebound for the country’s tourism industry. They’ve also threatened the livelihoods of many travel agencies that have struggled mightily during the pandemic.

“In less than 48 hours, our outbound and indoor industry was destroyed for the next three months,” said Otto de Vries, the CEO of the Association of Southern African Travel Agents. “The knee-jerk reaction from countries around the world has been nothing short of a disaster for the (local) travel industry.”

Numerous figures explain why. Cancelled bookings due to the recently enacted travel bans have cost South Africa’s tourism industry $61.9 million (one billion rand). And 90 percent of tourism businesses in the country’s Western Cape province said in a survey conducted by its Department of Economic Development and Tourism that they expect their revenue between December and February to decrease due to the international bans.

Another South African travel agency executive, Gary Mulder, has also seen the damage brought upon by the travel bans. “Our numbers are already down 30-40 percent from last week,” said the CEO of Club Travel. “And we fear (it) will remain that way or potentially drop by more as the impact of Omicron hits the world.”

Despite de Vries’s belief that many in South Africa were expecting another Covid wave, both he and Mulder were stunned at how quickly authorities worldwide moved to implement travel bans. “There is so little common sense applied in these decisions about who can and can’t travel and much inconsistency in this latest one that we were caught off guard,” Mulder said.

While Mulder added the Club Travel has reached out to its customers to propose alternative domestic trips during the South Africa’s holiday season, that won’t come to making up for the enormous financial hit the agency will suffer. International travel is the company’s biggest revenue generator, and among the destinations that have closed their borders to its clients are Mauritius and Seychelles, both historically popular with South African travelers.

Further Reading

Updated Dec. 1, 2021

The country’s travel agencies had already been struggling mightily even before the enormous financial hit caused by the recently enacted bans. A little more than 75 percent of travel agencies reported in April 2021 they had been forced to implement salary cuts for their employees while 55 percent had had to trim staff.

So when might business recover for South African travel agencies? “We don’t because we don’t know what decisions will come next from world leaders,” Mulder said. “(We) remain at the mercy of these leaders to make better decisions, ideally after they have consulted with (the World Health Organization), the top scientists, etc.”

“From an international travel perspective, we also now rely on the resilience of the travelers who may be spooked by what has happened now and who will think twice about being in a foreign country when such immediate bans are put in place.”