“Can we please move past fear and embrace a pragmatic, yet safe approach to travel?”

This plea, from Owner/Director of Alpha Destinations, Angela Matthews – contained in a letter to Tourism Update – comes on the heels of the press briefing on Friday by Minister of Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.

The briefing disappointed many in the industry, who were expecting her to provide further details about the easing of inter-provincial leisure travel restrictions as well as some indication on opening South Africa’s borders to international travel.

Matthews writes:

“The detailed plan, elaborated on and presented by tourism experts to motivate opening up soonest for domestic travel with all safety protocols in place, to prepare (and learn!) for international travel to return by September 1, should have been enough to convince decision-makers in government that not only was it safe to open up, but absolutely crucial in order to save thousands and thousands of livelihoods.

Yet, after Friday’s ministerial announcement it is clear to me that the message did not get through. I have the definite impression that our Tourism Minister either does not understand our industry or does not have our interests at heart.

Looking at other departments (think churches and sports), at industries (think hairdressers, casinos, movie theatres) that have opened up in recent weeks after some serious lobbying, why are we not making any progress?

How come we still need to explain how vital it is for inbound tourism to have a set date for the opening of international travel? That no substantial domestic leisure travel is possible with closed inter-provincial borders? That other destinations, which are brave enough to put fear aside and act in a sensible, pragmatic and safe way, will get the business, that should/could have come our way? That many more retrenchments will become unavoidable, very soon?

Please don’t ask us to be patient any more. We have been patient for a very long time! It is now time to challenge the Minister of Tourism and her irrational decisions. It is time for the government to trust the experts and to understand that it is neither irresponsible nor unsafe to drive in a private vehicle from Johannesburg to a game reserve in one of the other provinces, where the strict COVID-19 protocols will be adhered to.

It is time to give people the autonomy to decide for themselves if they want to leave their house and enjoy a trip to the bush. Just as they are given the autonomy to decide if they want to go to a restaurant or attend a funeral.

My mind boggles at the lack of logic when it comes to certain decisions. I can fly from Johannesburg to Cape Town to attend a conference with 49 other people, stay at a hotel where the staff might come from high infection areas using public transport, then fly back to Johannesburg.

But I cannot take my family in a private vehicle from Johannesburg to a small lodge in a game reserve, literally traveling from ‘bubble’ to ‘bubble’. I can go to a casino or a movie theatre, but beaches and public parks will remain closed. Can we please find some common sense, somewhere?

My small company, which has never had any domestic business to speak of, is sitting with local enquiries/bookings for close to 250 bed-nights at game reserves. Most of them would like to travel within the next weeks, because a) they have serious cabin fever and b) their children are on school holidays. Are we really going to turn this business away? Are we going to take this opportunity to boost staff morale away from the lodges (and pay salaries, conservation fees, tips) by sending guests their way?

What are we waiting for? We cannot continue telling each other and our potential clients to be patient. Our industry is being decimated. By fear? By incompetence? By ignorance? We need to ask the uncomfortable question “Is there an ulterior motive for keeping the leisure travel industry shut?” because reason and logic are most definitely not behind it.

I am getting incredibly frustrated by the enormous, unnecessarily extended damage that is done to our industry. And I am sure I am not the only one.