Gaborone - The Southern African region is gearing up for wider reopening of borders to international tourists after months of a lockdown induced by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
This week Botswana announced it was joining the Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Seychelles, Zambia and Zimbabwe in reopening which form part of the list of countries in the borders to a selected low-risk international tourist markets.
Tourism constitutes a key economic pillar for many many members of the Southern Africa Development Community.
The CEO of the Chief Executive Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB), Lily Rakorong, confirmed negotiations were ongoing between tourism sector stakeholders and the government on how best the country could allow visitors back into the country.
“We need to have soft opening of the borders to promote and allow chartering companies to bring tourists to Botswana. There would be rapid testing in their own countries and also get tested when they arrive in Botswana,” she said.
Rakorong said tourists could be flown directly to popular destinations such as the Okavango Delta to minimise unnecessary contacts as a new coronavirus control measure.
“But they will need to produce COVID-19 testing certificates (also known as polymerase chain reaction certificates) and also be tested so that the staff in the tourism sector are protected. We will also ensure that those who serve them are also tested for COVID-19,” she said.
Rakorong said another scenario would be for tourists to be first tested in their countries of origin and then again upon arrival in Botswana.
“This is to ensure that tourists from those countries do not bring in the virus into the country. Even tourists from selected countries in the region or continent would be considered. These are things that are still on the negotiation table,” she said.
Presenting the Mid-Term Fiscal Review, which Parliament adopted last week, Finance Minister Dr Thapelo Matsheka revealed the government was working on easing restrictions on travelers from high-risk countries to help bolster the local economy.
The countries are the United States, the United Kingdom, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Dr Matsheka said the phased reopening would support the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan, The country’s development blueprint for post-corona development.
The DRC reopened land borders and airports on August 15. All visitors into require negative PCR certificates that are no older than three days, and undergo temperature checks, and possible testing or quarantining upon arrival.
Namibia has started a trial phase starting September 1 for foreign tourists.
As with Zimbabwe and Seychelles, visitors must provide certification that they tested negative for COVID-19 prior to travel.
“Those international tourists, selected to travel to Namibia during the trial period, will be required to present a 72-hour negative polymerase chain reaction test result upon arrival,” President Hage Geingob recently said.
He said tourists would not be subject to a mandatory quarantine but must remain in their initial destination for a seven-day period, during which a COVID-19!test would be conducted. Provided the results were negative, they could resume their travels.
A report published recently by the South African tourism authority shows that the country could open up to Asian and Australian markets in November, with its core markets (the UK, Germany and the US) following in April 2021.
The Seychelles reopened its borders to tourists from low and medium risk countries on June 1. That same month, Tanzania opened its borders under normal and regular “pre-covid protocols”.
Zambia has also allowed tourists to visit, with PCR certificates a requirement.