Angry tour operators warn of rising prices and job losses, accusing the UK government of ‘colonial’ Covid rules that have left Latin American and African tourism ‘on a razor’s edge’.
Travel restrictions are generally eased from Monday – with a simpler two-tier system coming into effect and less onerous testing requirements for fully vaccinated people.
But most of southern Africa and Latin America have been left on the red list, which would leave returning UK tourists with a bill of £ 2,285 for an 11-night managed stay in quarantine at the hotel.
Pressure is mounting on UK ministers to change the rules in the next redlist review, which could take place as early as next week. Specialty tour operators and travel agencies claim that the current paralysis threatens their very existence.
The anxiety is compounded by a frustrating lack of clarity about government decision-making. “It seems if you’re not in Europe, North America, or the Commonwealth, you are considered a third-rate nation,” said Danny Callaghan, managing director of the Latin American Travel Association (LATA). “It’s almost a British colonial mentality at play.”
He added that a Latin American ambassador was told that the government did not trust the [Covid] data leaving their country. And with operators at the limit, Callaghan warns, “If you lose the competition, you will end up seeing prices increase for consumers.”
Kate Kenward, Managing Director of the African Travel and Tourism Association (Atta) said: “We are already seeing layoffs, companies dropping from 40 employees to two.”
Asked by I Regarding the red list position, the Ministry of Transport cited the methodology and criteria of the Joint Biosafety Council which include genomic surveillance capacity, risk of Covid transmission, test rates and risk of transmission of concern variant.
But with the Delta variant now dominating the world and infection rates much higher in the UK than in many countries on both continents, critics say the ban seems increasingly illogical.
Angola and Chile share a higher percentage of genome sequences with the GISAID global science initiative than India and Pakistan, which are no longer on the red list. The JBC’s assessment of the risk of “strong travel links with countries and territories known to have community transmission of a variant” is also questionable as British and South African tourists may converge on Mauritius .
Germany recently removed South Africa and Brazil from its list of high-risk areas, while Ireland ended mandatory hotel quarantines for arrivals from high-risk countries.
For Lata members and associated vendors, the UK’s continued restrictions are critical.
“There is no alternative for us,” says Laura Rendell-Dunn of Journey Latin America, who has not sent any clients overseas since the start of the pandemic. Another independent adventure tour operator, Tucan Travel, which was founded in 1987 and had strong roots in Latin America, ceased operations in February of that year.
“The season for southern Chile and Argentina runs from November to March,” says Rendell-Dunn. “It’s terrifying to think that we could still miss this whole season if nothing changes.
The operators are “stunned”
African operators have the same frustrations.
“We’re stunned,” Kenward said. “It is as if the government has forgotten about Africa or at the very least is treating it like a continent rather than countries. People are on a razor’s edge: 80% of our UK tour operators specialize solely in Africa. “
Their problems were exacerbated by the end of the leave regime on Thursday, at a critical time for the travel industry. The deadline for companies to renew their air travel organizer (Atol) license fell on the same day. A week before the deadline, around 20% of existing Atol holders – many of whom face liquidity issues – had yet to apply. Those who missed the deadline will lose their ability to sell package vacations.
At the same time, vacationers would normally shift their focus from short-haul European destinations to long-haul options. For the second consecutive winter, their options will be limited unless a significant change is adopted.
Effects on the ground
Huge reductions in tourism in Africa and Latin America affect wildlife conservation and lead to increased poaching.
Akashinga rangers in Zimbabwe have already recovered 146 elephant tusks this year, up from 38 for the whole of 2019. Illegal logging is also on the rise on both continents.
“When families have to put food on the table and the only way to do it is to cut down trees rather than protect them, there is a real problem,” says Danny Callaghan of the Latin American Travel Association.
At the same time, the LATA Foundation launched an appeal to support the poorest on the ground in Latin America. It raised enough money to support 92 Peruvian porters and their families with basic food packages for a year – the Peruvian government has not provided any financial support to people employed in tourism.
Verification of the reality of the red list of affected countries
Argentina New cases of Covid confirmed daily: 1,500 and declining. About 57% of the population is fully vaccinated. In 2020, the tourism sector lost more than 75% of its volume of inbound and outbound tourists.
Brazil New daily confirmed cases: an erratic pattern of 35,500 last week and 16,500 this week. President Jair Bolsonaro is still unvaccinated and Brazil has the second highest number – 594,450 – of Covid-related deaths in the world.
Chile About 83.5% of the population is fully vaccinated with 700 new infections reported daily and increasing. The country reopened its borders to fully vaccinated foreigners last month.
Colombia The Mu variant of interest, which has eight mutations, is responsible for more than a third of all cases, but it is believed that it cannot compete with the transmissibility of Delta. There are about 1,500 new infections every day.
Costa Rica According to the IMF, Costa Rica could be one of the countries hardest hit by a loss in tourism, which contributes more than 3% of its GDP. It registers around 2,000 new infections per day.
Ecuador Turtles, sea lions and sharks have been sighted from the shores of the Galapagos Islands far more times than before Covid and the quality of the coastal environment has improved. However, Ecuador’s tourism sector lost more than $ 1.2 billion (£ 886 million) in 2020. Around 300 new infections per day.
Mexico The country has 8,500 new infections reported daily and just under 40% of the population is fully vaccinated. Continuing travel restrictions in the United States are suffocating Mexico’s largest tourist market. But the UK is still among the country’s top source markets.
Peru A 79% drop in tourist arrivals in 2020. Around 800 new infections per day with just under 40% of the population fully vaccinated.
Malawi Just under 3% of the population is fully vaccinated and there are around 17 new cases recorded per day.
Namibia Government provides wage subsidy to help businesses keep jobs in tourism, hospitality and aviation
Rwanda About 200 new infections reported per day with just under 15% of the population fully vaccinated. The closures are believed to have driven tourists away.
Seychelles Over 75 percent of the population is fully vaccinated and there are just over 75 new infections per day with a beta surge responsible for the recent surge. Tourism provides just under a third of all jobs.
South Africa Just under 15% of the population has been fully vaccinated and new cases reported per day total around 1,670. In 2018, one in 22 workers was employed in the tourism sector.
Tanzania Only 0.3% of the population is fully vaccinated. Over 2.1 million jobs have been lost in East Africa, as the region’s economy relies heavily on tourism.