Coronavirus: SA tour operators waive cancellation fees for Chinese tourists_1

Private tour operators in South Africa have been praised for their willingness to waive booking cancellation fees for visitors from China. Chinese citizens are being prevented from travelling by their government in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.


Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA), the inbound tourism association representing private tour operators, said many of its members are agreeing to cancel, without financial penalty, holidays booked in February and March by Chinese tourists. 


In late January, China banned its citizens from booking overseas tours and from purchasing overseas flights and hotel packages. South Africa gets around 95 000 visitors a year from China, said Tourism Business Council of South Africa CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivengwa . 

Tourists from other nations still pay cancellation fees


Visitors from other countries who want to cancel their holidays due to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak are, however, not having their cancellation fees waived. Instead, they are being asked to rebook.


In a statement issued on Tuesday February 4, SATSA said non-Chinese citizens would still be liable for the standard cancellation fees, or could otherwise postpone their trips and incur fewer penalties.


SATSA CEO David Frost told Tourism Update in an interview that these tour operators are helping to protect the reputation of South Africa as a tourism brand. He added that forward bookings from Chinese citizens ran into “several millions” up to mid-2020.


“We are not aware of any members currently considering or extending waivers beyond the Chinese market,” Frost said. “Reputational damage must be considered, but as this is a global issue, all countries will face the same reputational damage.”

Coronavirus: No bans on visitors entering South Africa


In its statement, SATSA said there is no impact on visitors to South Africa and no travel or trade advisories or restrictions have been put in place for travelling to South Africa, except those imposed on Chinese citizens by the Chinese government.


“South African health authorities and hospitals are on high alert and temperature screening remains in place at most international airports in South Africa. This is a routine precaution that was instituted at airports in 2010,” the statement reads.

Impact on global tourism has been ‘devastating’


While 95 000 Chinese visitors a year is significant for the South African tourism sector, it is small by global standards. Canada, for example, normally welcomes 800 000 Chinese tourists.


Global travel has dropped as people from around the world elect to curtail their travel, both to China and elsewhere.  The World Economic Forum describes the effect of the outbreak on travel as “devastating”.