SA safari bookings suffer as coronavirus spreads

South African National Parks, which manages the country’s safari destinations – including the premier Kruger National Park – said this week it has seen a number of postponements by international visitors due to the coronavirus Pandemic.

The World Health Organisation on Wednesday declared the outbreak a pandemic.

According to SANParks spokesperson, Isaac Phaahla, visitors mainly from Europe, North America and Asia have been postponing their trips, as opposed to cancelling, in a development he described as out of the organisation’s control, as countries around the world enforced precautionary measures to limit movement of people.

“We were trying to make inroads with Asia, and this is going to destabilise our marketing effort, which is done through SA Tourism,” he said. 

He added that the number of postponements was still “negligible” compared to the overall number of visitor still coming through the gates.

“These are not outright cancellations, which means people can travel again once the situation returns to normal.”

The Kruger Park, which saw more than 1.5 million visitors in 2018, according to a recent annual report, is a magnet for international tourists, mainly from Europe and North America.

Tourism is one of the key drivers of South Africa’s sluggish economy, and a drop in activity is likely to be felt. On Friday, ratings agency Moody’s lowered South Africa’s growth forecast for 2020 from 0.7% to 0.4%, citing the impact of the virus on economic activity. The agency also slashed projections for the G20 countries, which South Africa is part of.

The country has recorded three cases of coronavirus, as the deadly flu which was in January declared a public health emergency by the Word Health Organisation (WHO), after infections spread around the world from the China’s Wuhan province, which is the epicentre.

Two of the people are a couple which was part of a group which had travel to Italy, one of the European countries that has been hit by the virus.

A PwC report last month indicated that the tourism industry was one of the sectors expected to come under pressure from the effects of the virus. About 95 000 Chinese tourists visit South Africa every year.

In January, the Flight Centre Travel Group urged travellers to reconsider all non-essential travel to China as a result of the outbreak.