Dear Partners in Tourism,
Another year; another newsletter…..well, to be frank we’ve all been through too many WTF moments over the last 2 years to stomach another boring newsletter. I surely hope I won’t disappoint in that regard.
Let’s start with some good news. The South African government relaxed our lockdown restrictions on 31 December 2021. There is thus no more curfew applicable and businesses such as restaurants, bars, hotels etc. will now operate under their normal (pre-COVID) business hours & regulations. Previously they had to close by 23h00 and stop serving alcohol by 22h00.
The announcement was in response to the recognition by government and our COVID council scientists that we’ve passed the peak of our ‘4th COVID wave’. South Africa was the first country to experience an ‘omicron wave’ and hopefully it will serve as a scientific benchmark for the rest of the world. At this stage I’m not holding my breath on that front considering some of the initial hysteria and knee-jerk reactions with travel bans without any scientific basis by some governments – but there is always hope. We’re still feeling the repercussions of the travel bans and it decimated international travel to the region for the December period (and likely the next few months too). Unfortunately some governments and airlines still enforce unjustified travel bans on South Africa.
We saw COVID positive cases spike significantly in early December (like many countries are currently experiencing and others will probably too in the near future). The number of new positive cases have however been dropping just as dramatically in the last 10 days. Our hospitalisations have however not increased with the same significance as the positive case numbers – some indications are that hospitalisation numbers seem to be less than 60% of the number we experienced during our 3rd wave and with much fewer numbers in ICU or requiring ventilators. An indication of the fact that omicron causes milder disease than delta or earlier variants. The vast majority of those that end up in hospital are unvaccinated.
Naturally different countries will have different experiences due to different demographics, vaccination rates & other circumstances. But hopefully other countries will also have similar trajectories and a quick drop in numbers once the peak of a wave is reached.
The continued hysteria and fear-mongering perpetuated by some media channels are counter-productive and should be disregarded in the same way as the other end of the spectrum pushing anti-vax and related messages. Tourism is dependent on a realistic, balanced and scientifically sound view of COVID in order to recover from the ravages of the last 2 years.
We can only wish that would be the case for 2022!
If the current trend of dropping positive case numbers continue in South Africa, the country should be past its 4th wave by middle to late January. Hopefully all travel bans should also be lifted by then (it already doesn’t make any sense considering the fact that omicron has spread to most countries and other countries with no travel bans have much larger numbers of positive cases).
Traveling to Southern Africa in February & March could thus be the ideal opportunity for those considering a last minute summer trip – both for those who had to postpone travel and also those who are ready to travel after being unable to travel for extended periods.
We actually had a surprising number of people travel to our shores during November 2021 (these even included some groups!). People had safe and enjoyable experiences and returned home refreshed, inspired, invigorated and recharged. There would be no reason why a similar South African experience isn’t possible as soon as February already.
And we will of course wait for later in 2022 for those who can’t immediately travel!
Some might think I’ve lost the plot with such optimism in a time when the general trend is quite the opposite.
Well, I’ve never been the ‘glass-half-empty’ type and also been kicked in the teeth enough in my lifetime…so that probably explains some of it…
Optimism is however a trait that you need to succeed in the tourism industry. How can you create forever-to-be-remembered experiences, dream up mind-blowing itineraries and plant the seeds of lifelong memories if you’re not positive and believe in a bright future?
The last 2 years has been trying, tiring, deflating and a shock to the system for all of us in tourism. But that is not what tourism is about – or what we are. Maybe a reminder to that fact is needed. Consider yourself reminded.
If we as an industry aren’t confident, bold and fearless about the long-term recovery and growth of tourism, why would tourist consider travelling in all this adversary? We must continue to motivate, tempt and cajole the world to travel.
In light of my theme of a positive outlook, I’m including some positive travel related coverage on South Africa that appeared in the international travel press over the last week:
CNN travel: Where to travel 2022: The best destinations to go – South Africa
CNN Travel just published their list of best destination to visit during 2022 and South Africa was on the list with a special mention.
“We’ve all had a bad year. Hell, we’ve all had a bad two years. Yet it’s hard not to feel a strong surge of empathy for South Africa. While many destinations at least benefited from summer Covid lulls to revive traveller numbers, South Africa’s November-March peak season has meant that most of its would-be visitors have been stuck at home, battling winter virus spikes. To cap it all, in gratitude for South African scientists quickly identifying and warning about the Omicron variant, much of the rest of the world cut off all travel contact, delivering a pointless blow to the country’s already beleaguered tourism industry. For those reasons alone, if it’s safe to visit in 2022, South Africa deserves to be near the top of anyone’s wish list. All those things that make it special — from beaches to big game safaris, wine to whale spotting, township tours to hiking trails — are all still there. And there are plenty of unexplored gems to experience if it does get busy: beach city Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), the Drakensberg mountains in KwaZulu-Natal, the scenic Panorama and Garden Route driving trails.”
I travelled to South Africa during Omicron. This is what it was like.
Ross Borden, CEO and Founder of Matador Network commented on his recent stay in South Africa during December.
“I woke up this morning in Cape Town, South Africa — one of my favourite cities on Earth. It’s smack in the middle of summer down here, and on any other year, this city would be packed to the gills. But in late November, brave South African scientists shared their discovery of the new Omicron strain with the world, and when the media frenzy began to spin, most people who had plans to come here quickly cancelled them. We chose not to cancel our trip and it was the best decision of 2021.
We’ve been here for almost 2 weeks exploring South Africa’s wildlife, sunsets, wine country, and city culture — all made possible by the amazing South African people. None of us got COVID — and we’ve had a trip we’ll remember for the rest of our lives, in part made better by the fact that we didn’t have to share it with many other tourists. Good for us, but sad for the people of South Africa, many of whom rely on tourism dollars to survive and thrive.
Since the pandemic began, there has been a lot of talk about the “ethics of travel”. It has been said often that it’s “unethical to travel” during a pandemic, but I’ve heard fewer calls about the ethics of NOT traveling. And everywhere I’ve travelled over the last year (mostly with my 6 year old in tow), from Mexico to Montana to the Azores, we’ve been greeted by grateful people who were happy we hadn’t cancelled.
So I’m writing to you today to encourage you to have an open mind about travel in 2022. It’s certainly not as easy as it was before COVID — even if you’re vaccinated. Moving around the world nowadays requires some annoying extra steps like masks and swabs up your nose at every turn — but as long as you comply with the rules and travel safely — you owe it to yourself to get out and see the world again. Meet new friends who will appreciate the extra couple of hoops you jumped through to visit their country or their city — and rediscover with fresh eyes why we all value travel so much and why it’s such a positive force for our world.”
A world without travel is a world without soul. And we definitely need a bit of soul after the last two years. And a whole lot of positivity!
Best wishes for 2022!
Best Tourism regards