Fear is driving COVID strategies. Fear of new variants. Fear of another wave of infections. Fear that current vaccines may not be effective against variants, or to stop transmission of the virus. Fear that hospitals may be overwhelmed.
Fear is also stopping people from travelling. Not specifically fear of the virus. But fear of having their trip cancelled or cut short. Fear of new lockdowns or travel bans or border closures. Fear of having to quarantine upon return. Fear of testing positive or not getting a test result back in time and missing your flight.
I don't think governments and policy-makers appreciate how much the current regulations hamper travel recovery.
Here is an example of exactly what travellers face planning a trip to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania in September 2021.
They will arrive with a negative PCR test, less than 72 hours old. Upon arrival in South Africa, they cannot fly directly to Victoria Falls the next morning, as Zimbabwe requires a test that is less than 48 hours old. That means they have to spend an extra night in Johannesburg so they can do a second PCR test, less than 48 hours before their flight to Vic Falls departs. And hope they get the results back in time.
In Zim, they have to cut their stay in Hwange short and budget to spend an extra day in Victoria Falls in order to get their third PCR test before flying back to SA. Not sure yet what the turnaround time is there. Is one night enough to be guaranteed of getting the test result back on time?
Depending on flight times, their third test taken in Vic Falls may no longer be valid for their onward flight to Tanzania. Since SAA is not flying, their most likely route is with Kenya Airways via Nairobi. This means even if they make it to Nairobi, their Vic Falls test will have expired by the time they board their connecting flight from Nairobi (Kenya) to Kilimanjaro (Tanzania). But the layover time does not allow for a PCR test, so they either have to spend a night in Nairobi, or they have to do a fourth PCR test in SA before flying to Tanzania via Nairobi. And this means another extra night in Johannesburg before flying to Tanzania, in order to get the results back.
After their Serengeti safari, they need another test (their fifth PCR test) before their return flight to South Africa. But in Arusha the turnaround time for a PCR test is minimum 48 hours, which means their test may not be valid by the time they depart Nairobi for South Africa. Either they risk not having the test result back before they depart from Kilimanjaro, or they run the risk that their test sample is more than 72 hours old before they board the flight from Nairobi to Johannesburg. Nobody can give a definitive answer on turnaround times of testing facilities in outlying areas like Arusha. Get it wrong, and you miss your flight and face massive extra costs. Should they budget an extra night in Nairobi?
Once back in South Africa, they will spend a few days in Cape Town before heading home, and need a sixth PCR test for their flight home.
One trip, three countries, six PCR tests, lots of wasted time and money to get the tests. Several unnecessary stopover nights in order to get tests done.
In South Africa, a PCR test costs around R850 (US$60) a pop. In Tanzania they cost $100pp. This means six tests could easily cost them $500 per person for this trip. $1000 extra for the two of them, not counting the accommodation costs for the extra nights needed while waiting for test results, or the transport costs to get to a testing facility. Who wants to add R15 000 (€864) or R20 000 (€1152) to their overall trip costs just to accommodate all the PCR tests?
While some travellers may put up with this nonsense, most customers will say no thanks, we will wait until these testing requirements disappear and travel in 2022 or 2023 again.
While PCR testing is still required, if African destinations want their travel industries to recover, they need to work together to urgently reduce the cost of testing, improve turnaround times and availability of PCR tests, increase the validity time of a PCR test to 96 hours (four days) to decrease the number of tests required when combining destinations, and/or allow for rapid testing at the airport instead of PCR tests. ALL countries in Southern and East Africa need to work together on this if we want to attract tourists again.
Alternatively, and in my opinion the best long-term option as soon as the case numbers justify it, is that all SADC countries should drop the requirement for a negative test completely for vaccinated travellers as well as those with natural immunity after having recovered from COVID (doctor's letter).
The current situation is killing travel to Africa.