Travel ban policy needs another look

It’s not like we’ll suddenly have millions of travellers flocking to SA, so those willing and able to travel here should be encouraged

As the numbers keep fluctuating on coronavirus statistics worldwide, the list of countries allowed to send visitors to SA is continually changing, playing havoc with our tourism industry
MOVING TARGET: As the numbers keep fluctuating on coronavirus statistics worldwide, the list of countries allowed to send visitors to SA is continually changing, playing havoc with our tourism industry
Image: Gallo Images

The government’s updated list of countries banned from sending people to SA is disappointing on many fronts.

It effectively kills SA’s central source markets for leisure travellers, as David Maynier, Western Cape MEC for economic development and tourism, put it this week.

On a personal (and admittedly more selfish) note, the addition of Germany, Spain and Italy to countries deemed “high risk” is particularly disheartening.

It means any hope of spending Christmas with loved ones living in Europe is looking increasingly like pie in the sky.

No doubt thousands of other South Africans with family scattered abroad are in the same boat.

Everyone will probably have to put festive season reunions on hold — but who knows for how long.

If anything, travellers from more countries are likely to be barred from SA as the government updates its travel tally every two weeks, as a new wave of Covid-19 cases sweeps the world and any likelihood of a vaccine being ready before year-end starts to fade.

As it stands, the home affairs department’s willy-nilly approach to adding and deleting countries on the high-risk list is nonsensical.

Surely, as Maynier rightly argues in Business Day, the “red list” needs to be scrapped in a bid to ensure the survival of SA’s ailing tourism industry?

Maynier, like many other industry players, believes all visitors should be allowed entry into SA, subject to presenting a negative PCR test and other screening protocols.

After all, it’s not as though we’ll suddenly have millions of hard-currency-wielding travellers knocking down our doors — even before Covid that was never the case. So those willing and able to travel to SA should be encouraged and not deterred.

Meanwhile, as international travel feels increasingly like a distant dream, the pandemic is creating far-reaching shifts in global passport power — a measure, essentially, of how many countries will welcome you to their shores without a visa.

International residence and citizenship consultants Henley & Partners says Covid-induced travel restrictions have completely upended the seemingly unshakeable hierarchy of global mobility.

For instance, according to the latest Henley Passport Index, which is based on data from the International Air Transport Association, the US passport slipped from the sixth-most powerful in the world in early 2020 to 21st position by October.

Back in January, Americans could still travel hassle-free to 185 destinations around the world. Since then, that number has dropped dramatically: now, US passport holders can access fewer than 75 destinations without a visa.

Other significant changes in the once solid global mobility hierarchy paint an equally vivid picture of the chaos caused by Covid-19.

At the beginning of 2020, the Singapore passport was ranked second strongest globally, with easy access to 190 destinations. Under the current travel restrictions, Singaporeans can travel to fewer than 80 destinations around the world.

Those countries whose coronavirus responses have been widely regarded as inadequate have also taken big knocks. In January, for example, Brazilian passport holders were able to access 170 destinations without acquiring a visa beforehand; this has dwindled to about 70.

Remarkably, SA’s passport power ranking has in fact improved slightly: from 53rd to 52nd position, with SA passport holders still able to access 101 visa-free destinations.

Unsurprisingly, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria sit at the bottom of the passport index.

One interesting upshot of the decline of international travel freedom is an increased demand for second passports through one of the many citizenship-by-investment programs.

Henley & Partners CEO Juerg Steffen says there’s no question that 2020s volatility has boosted the appeal of “investment migration” for an increasingly wide range of people from an increasingly wide array of countries.

Steffen’s firm has seen a 238% surge in inquiries from Americans between January and mid-September 2020, measured on a year-on-year basis.

“The events of this year have demonstrated that we cannot predict the future. But for those high net worth investors who want to ensure they are well prepared for the next major disruption, alternative residence or citizenship is increasingly seen as an indispensable asset and a vital hedge against ongoing volatility,” he says.

In a thought-provoking article, National Geographic spoke to a number of industry experts on what travel could look like in a post-pandemic world.

In it, travel author Elizabeth Becker predicts that sustainability will be a driving force as travellers take on the role of “concerned citizens”, demanding more responsible travel policies.

She believes the industry will respond by prioritising a healthy world over profit margins: “Don’t be surprised if countries mandate ‘fly-free days’ and other measures to control climate change,” she says.

High-mileage travellers will put more thought into their bucket lists and seek quality over quantity, says The Minority Nomad travel blogger Erick Prince.

You can also expect a new appreciation for road-tripping and domestic travel closer to home.

Condé Nast Traveller sustainability editor Juliet Kinsman believes travel advisers will become essential. “I think what 2020 has shown and taught us is the expertise and financial protection of booking through a travel agent often outweighs the amount you pay in commission,” she says.

Last but not least, the article predicts that planning trips will become joyful again as “pandemic fatigue” sets in, and people realise just how important travel is for boosting mental health, overall wellbeing and personal growth.

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