Firstly, I would like to thank you for all you are doing to keep the tourism industry updated and motivated.

I would like to share my experience from last week with you.

I had a family of six from Italy who arrived in South Africa on March 6.  By Friday, March 13, they were to return to Italy.

During that day, their tour operator (TO) in Italy was contacted via email by the Western Cape health department to find out how they could get hold of these travellers because of an “urgent medical matter”.

The TO contacted me and I contacted the doctor (from the Western Cape) to give her the details. They had an Italian-speaking guide with them, she contacted them and advised them that they could not leave for Italy that night because when they arrived in South Africa they took a domestic flight from OR Tambo to Cape Town. Someone from that same flight was later confirmed to have tested positive for the virus.

I was advised by Western Cape Health that they could be quarantined in a hotel. I immediately got them into a hotel and was put in touch with Dr Chikwa from the Gauteng Health Department, who immediately dispatched doctors to the hotel.

Before they met with the clients they met with the hotel security, hotel health clinic and manageress to discuss the way forward.

The hotel nurses took the clients to a private laboratory for the tests on Tuesday. They were due to fly back on Friday night but not all tests were returned. They eventually left on Monday, March 23 after they received all the test results, which were all negative.

I would like to give everyone some tips on how best to handle this type of situation:

 

  1. Follow all instructions given by the Health Department
  2. Contact the Embassy or Consulate of the country the citizens are from – I contacted the Italian Consulate in Johannesburg and they immediately contacted the clients – they took charge of moving flights etc, Alitalia was very efficient in assisting. The consulate, the hotel manageress and I were in daily contact.
  3. Visitors cannot leave South Africa if they have not received all the test results, all of which must be negative.
  4. Clients were advised by the Consulate General that, should they attempt to leave the country without being given authorisation by the Health Department, they would be arrested once they landed in Italy. It is considered a criminal offence.
  5. The hotel manageress also advised that, should they attempt to leave, she would be forced to advise the NICD.
  6. The cost of the hotel, meals etc are for the clients’ account and if they have the correct insurance, they will be able to claim.

The other concern and a very important challenge for the DMC here in SA, is the guide. As the guide had been travelling with them from Cape Town and all the way through Mpumalanga and Kruger, I could not allow the guide to fly back to Cape Town. Therefore, he too had to be quarantined at the hotel.

At the end of the day, all ended well, but what is important from this experience is that even though it was not my ‘duty’ to assist these clients, as their journey with me ended on the Friday they were meant to leave, ethically and morally I felt it was my responsibility to follow through and assist wherever possible.

It has come at a large financial cost to me. All my business comes from Italy and, of course, it is all now cancelled and I still had to pay the guide’s cost while he was in Johannesburg. The hotel did come to the party and assist with free nights for the guide, and the Italian tour operator has advised that he will pay half the cost but I believe that I am responsible for the guide’s wellbeing and that I am responsible for his costs.

It is important for everyone who find themselves in this situation to remain calm and follow the rules and, importantly, contact or get the guests to contact, the Embassy or Consulate, they too are very grateful for any assistance they can get from the hotel, tour operator or DMC.

I hope this can give assistance or guidance to anyone who, over the next few days, could find themselves in this situation. Importantly, do not leave the guests alone; be in contact with them daily. We want them to come back to visit South Africa and to remember you, the tour operator, as being the one that was with them right through to the end.

The final WhatsApp message from this family to me was, “You have become a true friend to us during this experience. You have assisted us right through and we want to make sure that we inform all relevant parties of how good you were to us.” (loosely translated from Italian)

Alessandra Allerman, director of African Soulstice

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you for your insights and for going above and beyond to assist your guests. This is what makes the South African tourism industry so special – our innate hospitality and care. #Staystrong