Africa is finally putting the dreaded, and costly, PCR test for vaccinated travellers in the rearview mirror.
In the past month Kenya, Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia and Tanzania
all lifted the requirement for fully vaccinated travellers to present a
negative Covid-19 test. And most recently, South African president Cyril
Ramaphosa also announced that vaccinated inbound travellers to South
Africa would no longer need to present a negative PCR test.
The South African tourism industry was elated with the news, saying
it would be a game-changer for the country and the entire region.
A costly deterrent to travel
Over the past few months, newspapers highlighted just how much of a
deterrent the costs of PCR testing actually was. In August last year, a
local South African newspaper reported that an American honeymoon couple
was asked to pay a four-figure number for PCR testing alone.
The honeymooners wanted to go to Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa on
a once-in-a-lifetime trip to see wild animals and Victoria Falls,
staying at some of the region's best lodges. Each country required a
negative result 72 hours before entry, and the remote lodge they'd
chosen in Zimbabwe said the only way they could arrange for one was to
fly in a doctor — for US$6,000.
Tour operators, meanwhile, have been faced with the impossible task
of ferrying tests to labs within the required turnaround times from the
most remote corners in Africa.
It's therefore not surprising that Sean Kritizinger, chairman of
Giltedge, called the removal of the requirement for a PCR test to enter
South Africa a blessing for tourism to the entire region. He said: "This
forward thinking by the health department and SA government is in line
with international trends and will enable a much quicker return to
pre-Covid tourism numbers, when South Africa was in constant high
demand. Our neighbouring countries, too, will benefit greatly due to the
main access airports into the region being in South Africa."
David Frost, CEO of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association,
and inbound tourism group, agreed and said the tourism sector had been
waiting for this day with great anticipation. "The requirement of a PCR
test for international travellers who have been fully vaccinated has
been a major deterrent to inbound travel, particularly for those
travellers who use South Africa as a hub through which to visit
neighbouring destinations, such as Victoria Falls," he said.
For Robert More, CEO of the More Family Collection, the anxiety and
uncertainty surrounding PCR testing has been the single biggest
deterrent for visitors when considering a destination. He said that
removing this for South Africa, which is so well suited to a
post-pandemic travel experience (a low density, outdoor destination with
leading standards on Covid-19 protocols), will be the single biggest
step forward to unlocking the country's ability to welcome back friends
and family from across the world and therefore rebuild the inbound
A blessing for business travel, too
It's not only the leisure market that stands to benefit from the
removal of red tape and testing requirements. The lifting of the
obstructive PCR testing couldn't come at a better time for the corporate
travel market either, says Guy Stehlik, CEO of Bon Hotels.
Stehlik says that recent surveys are definitely encouraging, with 84%
of planners surveyed by the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence
(SITE) saying that their first post-pandemic domestic reward-travel
programmes will take place by the end of Q1 2022. Furthermore, 59% of
respondents in a recent SITE survey said that international
travel-reward programmes will happen in that time frame, as well.
Says Stehlik: "Executives certainly can't wait to enjoy some
incentive travel again. In a recent SITE survey, a remarkable 94% of
respondents said their executives were "100% supportive" of resuming
incentive-travel programmes in the post-Covid environment. For South
Africa to capitalise on this exciting development, it was imperative to
remove as many barriers to travel as possible. The lifting of the
obstructive PCR requirement for fully vaccinated travelers is certainly a
step in the right direction towards a resurgent MICE year."