South Africa's tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu has welcomed the decision by EU countries to remove South Africa from red lists, but simultaneously lamented the loss of over a billion rand in much-needed tourism revenue during the peak December holiday season.
The loss was incurred after massive cancellations because Britain and over 20 other countries imposed a travel ban on South Africa immediately after it first announced the discovery of the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus in November.
While these moves are welcomed, it comes after the peak of the tourist season and in the wake of over R1 billion lost in cancelled bookings following re-imposition of travel bans in late November. We welcome EU's visitors to our country and are assured that their safety is guaranteed, Minister Sisulu said.
We remain grateful and open and we appreciate the continued support from various partners across the world, the minister said as she thanked the many partners who had assisted in lobbying for the removal of the red listing.
This is the culmination of sustained advocacy efforts and dedication of all tourism stakeholders. The war room which we put together is yielding results. Let us continue to work hand in hand to revive our industry, Minister Sisulu said.
Sisulu had set up the war room' within days of the UK imposing the travel ban barely six weeks after lifting its first red listing of south Africa
The war room comprised 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.
European Union member states on Monday agreed to lift the air travel ban on South Africa and other southern African countries, which will allow more travel to resume.
Travellers from the region will still be subject to health measures applicable to travellers from third countries.
European nations had suspended most air travel from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe as scientists scrambled to assess the severity of the omicron variant.
President Cyril Ramaphosa called it an unwarranted knee-jerk' reaction at the time.
The EU and other countries maintained the travel ban even after cases continued to surge around the world, despite an outcry from the region.
With the EU and especially the UK being a major tourism income generator for South Africa, the country's 10.2 million international overnight visitors in 2019 dropped by 70 per cent to 3.2 million in 2020 as the pandemic lockdowns started across the globe. Figures for 2021 are not available yet, but industry players expect them to be even worse.
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