UPDATE: SANParks requests all guests vacate the parks now ahead of lockdown

2020-03-18 03:00 - Gabi Zietsman
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UPDATE: In preparation for South Africa's lockdown, SANParks is requesting all of its guests to vacate the parks on Wednesday.

All tourism facilities in national parks will be shut down from today and day visitors will not be allowed into the parks.

However, international guests from high-risk countries who arrived in South African before 9 March are instructed to not leave the parks.

These guests have been identified and will be further instructed by staff on the way forward. 

Those with bookings during the breakdown will not be charged change and cancellation fees - although they are urged to rather postpone than cancel their holiday plans.

SANParks would like to assure the public that essential services such as food delivery, fuel provision, security and emergency services as well as wildlife crime operations will continue during this time.

“We would like to thank the public for their on-going support in line with government’s strategy to mitigate the impact of COVID 19, we all have an obligation to flatten the curve,” says SANParks CEO Fundisile Mketeni.


Chelsea Flower Show postponed

The annual Chelsea Flower Show - which has taken place every year since 1912 - has been postponed to next year. 

That means preparations by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) at Kirstenbosch have been halted - the team of horticulturalists and volunteers has gotten gold for South Africa many years in a row. 

“Our team has worked incredibly hard over the past few months and we would like to thank everyone for their efforts and support," says Carmel Mbizvo, acting CEO of SANBI. 

"We look forward to sharing our concept and design with the public in future, as well as once again bringing home Gold for SANBI and Kirstenbosch in 2021.”

Last year in May Kirstenbosch took home its 37th gold at the famous flower show for its 'Mountains of Abundance' display.

READ: UAE to suspend all flights - including transit flights 


Robben Island tours suspended

Robben Island Museum (RIM) has shut down their tours indefinitely from Thursday due to recommendations given by the South African government to restrict the spread of Covid-19.

"The conditions of our operations place our employees, visitors and patrons – whose health and lives are our top priority - in a vulnerable position of being potentially exposed to the virus in different ways," reads the statement.

READ: SAA cancels 162 flights (38 international and 124 regional) 

Some of the reasons for the closure include the large crowds that the island attracts, the enclosed environment of the ferry and busses on the island that will foster close contact, the difficulty they've faced with procuring sanitizing materials and the fact that 70% of RIM's visitors hail from high-risk countries.

Due to the closure, RIM will be delaying their ticket price increase, originally set to take place on 1 June. 

Those who have already bought tickets will have the option of rescheduling their dates or ask for a refund. ticket holders can get in contact with the following email addresses:

  • reschedule@robben-Island.org.za
  • refunds@robben-Island.org.za  

All transactions will be made electronically - the Nelson Mandela Gateway Ticket Office will not be accessible to the general public for any transactions.

ALSO SEE: 'Please support local tourism': What the coronavirus means for SA’s travel influencers 


Bo-Kaap goes into lock-down

The Bo-Kaap Civil and Ratepayers Association announced that following the declaration of a National State of Disaster by President Ramaphosa, the Bo-Kaap will be going into lock-down as the president calls on citizens to social distance.

The area is a big tourist attraction and residents are more prone to get into contact with tourists from high risk countries.

No tourist will be allowed into the area from today.

"This is for their health and the health of the Bo-Kaap community." 


Table Mountain Aerial Cableway closed

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC) will be closed to all visitors as from Wednesday 18 March 2020.

It will remain closed until after the Easter weekend, "or until greater clarity is given on the management and containment of this virus by the president and international health bodies".

For those who have already bought tickets, they can use the tickets for a later date or ask for a refund. 

While Table Mountain National Park will remain open, hikers are urged to wait until fire clean-up has concluded after the weekend blaze. 

READ: What's it like backpacking through Asia during the coronavirus outbreak


Robben Island suspends tours

The Robben Island Museum (RIM) will be suspending tours for two days, from 17 to 18 March, while they deliberate with key stakeholders on the best way forward.

Visitors may make use of the following contact details to reschedule or get a full refund as per RIM’s terms & conditions:

  • reschedule@robben-Island.org.za
  • refunds@robben-Island.org.za 

Africa Travel Indaba

Another South African event has gotten the coronavirus axes.

The Department of Tourism has announced that it will be suspending Africa Travel Indaba, which was set to take place from 12 to 14 May in Durban.

Sisa Ntshona, CEO of SA Tourism says, “We are in full support of the Minister’s decision and are duty bound to protect our nation and industry.” 

South African Tourism, through its National Convention Bureau (NCB), will be contacting participating exhibitors about the postponement. Further, the organisation will consult with the broader industry on workable future dates for Indaba. 

Stakeholders are encouraged to visit www.southafrica.net for regular updates.


How tourism in SA is bracing for impact with new Covid-19 travel restrictions

The tourism industry is in for a rough time.

On Sunday President Cyril Rampahosa announced the South Africa government will be implementing stricter measures regarding travel to help curb the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19.

These include the closing of 35 land ports of entry and two of the country's eight seaports, a ban on the gathering of 100 people or more and a travel ban on various countries, including Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, US, UK and China - the epicentre of the disease. The measures will take effect from 18 March 2020.

READ: Africa Travel Week postponed following the escalation of COVID-19 

For South Africa's tourism, this is a hard hit, as it reflects some of the countries biggest tourist markets. 

The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) released a statement to show support for their members and customers during this time, as well as for Ramapahosa. 

“We respect and understand the decision taken by the South African government to stem the spread of the virus by banning travel to and from certain destinations,” says Otto de Vries, CEO of ASATA.

“We appreciate the president’s well-considered position on this matter. We await further details, such as timelines when the government will re-evaluate the travel recommendations, to assess the implications for the outbound tourism industry.”

“We look look forward to engaging with the government tomorrow. We will work collectively with the private sector to limit the impact on the travel industry.” 

ALSO SEE: What Emirates is doing to help travellers amid the Covid-19 outbreak 

Response from SA Tourism

Last week SA Tourism was set to hold a webinar with media and stakeholders around the impact of the coronavirus on the industry, but due to loadshedding had to cancel it.

Since the announcement on Sunday, SA Tourism and its CEO Sisa Ntshona have not yet released a statement on the restrictions.

Last week Ntshona reiterated in a statement the need for "collaboration" in the industry during this crisis.

"As SA Tourism, we are engaging with our partners in the tourism sector to find solutions to respond to this outbreak which is unprecedented in scope.  It goes without saying that our first priority is the health and safety of our people," said Ntshona.

"As the sector, we must also collectively begin to look to when the crisis has been stabilised as to how we can build and protect South Africa’s reputation as a tourism destination of choice.  Our tourism brand is resilient and how we act now will determine whether we can emerge stronger post-the coronavirus outbreak and whether we will be remembered positively.  We can make the decisions and take the actions that will ensure this does happen."

READ: British Airways cancels all flights to Italy due to Covid-19 outbreak 

Cancellations

Many events in South Africa have been cancelled or postponed. The World Travel Market Africa - set to take place in April - was cancelled on Friday, and the Cape Town Carnival set to take place this weekend, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival and AfrikaBurn have also been postponed. 

Some tour operators have also suspended their tours for the next month - like G Adventures -  offering travel credit in lieu of refunds and giving those already starting tours with the option of leaving early. 

Flight Centre has urged its customers to double-check their travel insurance as they assist their customers with changing plans.

 “The impact that coronavirus is having on short-term travel is evolving rapidly. Several destinations have imposed travel bans which limit movement. Certain cruise lines, airlines and tour operators have also announced they will suspend operations temporarily and/or allow cancellation or deferment of travel plans without penalties,” says Andrew Stark, managing director of Flight Centre Travel Group Middle East and Africa. 

“Our top priority currently is to assist our customers, based on our travel expertise and the relationship we have with suppliers internationally, to re-accommodate any travel plans that need to be changed in the short term as this situation continues to evolve.”

ALSO SEE: The show must go on: 2020 Tokyo Olympics flame lit in Greece amid virus lockdown

Here are some of the common precautionary tips to help stop the virus's spread:

  • Wash hands with soap often;
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser after touching any surface;
  • Avoid touching eyes, face and nose;
  • Avoid contact with coughing passengers by whatever means possible and
  • Stay home if sick.
  • If you develop flu-like symptoms, do not panic. Please self-quarantine. This means you must limit your contact with other people.
  • Then, also, please call the National Coronavirus Hotline (0800 029 999) or health practitioner for further advice on what to do next. Stay home, except to get medical care as directed by the hotline or advice of health practitioner – do not go to work, school or public areas.