While the past 18 months of intermittent lockdowns and border closures have forced us into the undeniable pleasures of discovering the byways and backwaters of SA, for those with itchy feet of the travelling kind there’s good news at last, as a growing number of overseas destinations open their borders to SA travellers.
And while I cannot imagine needing another reason to get vaccinated — other than, you know, avoiding a deadly virus — it’s fully vaccinated travellers who will enjoy the most freedom to head abroad.
And it’s of Europe that many of us have been dreaming, whether the slopes of Saint-Moritz or the vineyards of Provence. And though most of the continent has been off-limits to South Africans, that’s changing fast.
France was first out of the blocks in late July, allowing vaccinated travellers to explore across the country on holiday. Remember, though, that the French Pass Sanitaire is required to enter many public spaces, including museums, restaurants and galleries. Luckily the French have made it easy to convert a foreign vaccination certificate, with all the details available here.
Leading European canal-boat operator Le Boat is already seeing enormous interest from local travellers, and, says Le Boat’s SA sales manager Liesl Nel, demand is already looking to outstrip supply for 2022: “I would definitely encourage people to plan and book well in advance. With so many Europeans choosing to travel within the continent, availability is already an issue on popular routes. By the end of the year I think we are going to struggle to find space at certain times.”
Germany followed France’s lead in August, as have Switzerland and Austria, opening a large swathe of Western Europe to holiday travel. The opening borders have seen growing demand, with local operators reporting a surge in interest, and bookings, from travel-starved South Africans.
“We have definitely seen a marked increase in both enquiries and bookings,” says Laura Hendel, marketing manager of Southern Africa for Club Med, which offers 11 ski resorts across Europe, and dozens more worldwide.
“European destinations such as France have announced their reopening to vaccinated South Africans, so all skiers, snowboarders and snow holiday fans who have felt the frustration of not being able to hit the slopes last season are making sure they don’t miss the next one.”
“France is proving to be the front-runner, followed by Egypt, currently for travel in 2021,” adds Kelly Jackson, MD of The Travel Corporation (TTC), which operates brands including Trafalgar, Contiki and Uniworld River Cruises.
TTC is also at the sharp end of a trend set to become standard across the travel industry: only fully vaccinated travellers are accepted for bookings on any of the group’s guided holiday brands.
Luckily the boom in demand has been matched by European airlines upping their flights. From August 24, Lufthansa will ramp up frequencies to five flights per week between Johannesburg and Frankfurt, with Swiss following suit on its Zurich route from September 1.
Closer to home, Mauritius has long been a favourite with SA seeking a tropical escape, and from October 1, vaccinated visitors will be able to roam the island as they please.
“We have been overwhelmed with enquiries to travel to Mauritius from October onwards,” adds Joanne Visagie, sales and marketing director for Beachcomber, which operates eight luxury resorts across the island and was recently offering accommodation discounts of up to 45% to encourage bookings. “The biggest demand so far is December ... family travel is big [and there are] quite a few wedding bookings too.”
Getting there may not be that easy though. Air Mauritius will only operate one flight per week (Fridays) until November, adding a second (Sunday) flight over the peak season from November 5 to March 22. SAA is unlikely to restart flights to the island any time soon, and unless BA/Comair step in with island flights, expect your airfare to take a larger bite than usual out of your travel funds.
But that’s little cause for complaint as opening borders offer the chance to, at last, shake the dust off the old green mamba.