Postcard From Botswana

We’re publishing a postcard from Botswana today by local resident Felicity FitzGerald, pointing out that putting Botswana back on the red list and naming the new variant the “Botswana Variant” will have a devastating effect on the local tourism industry, which is already on its knees. Here’s an extract:

Our population is only two-and-a-half million in a country the size of France so we have plenty of social distancing. Lumbering Botswana with responsibility for a new, vaccine-evading Covid variant is attention grabbing and thoughtless and will cause a huge increase in poverty and poaching, particularly elephant and rhino.

Failing to do their homework, journalists have prompted many safari tourists who’d booked for Botswana this year and next year to cancel those bookings. Southern Africa and the rest of the world has registered ten cases of this new variant, but by unfairly naming it “The Botswana Variant” journalists have made sure the stigma will remain long after the danger has passed and tourists will unnecessarily avoid the country for the next two seasons. Of course, any new variant should be treated with extreme caution, but the world has suddenly cut Southern Africa off causing a new variant of poverty.

The game lodges in northern Botswana employ hundreds of local people and most have managed to scrabble through the last two years. This season they have started to get business again, but this will now be cut off overnight. The lodges are very remote so although they only cater for few guests at a time, they each employ dozens of local people. Game guides, trackers, drivers, maintenance men, chefs and all the kitchen staff, waiters, cleaning staff, grounds men, support staff back at base, aviation, transport getting food and supplies and staff to and from the camps – everyone will again be without work which impacts conservation and communities. The presence of tourists in Botswana effectively assists the anti-poaching units patrolling the game areas on remote bush tracks and roads.

Worth reading in full.

Postcard From Vienna

We’re publishing a new addition to our long-running series ‘Around the World in 80 Lockdowns’. This time it’s a “Postcard From Vienna” from our regular travel correspondent Russell David. Here is an extract:

It’s no surprise most people aren’t booking holidays at the moment. In the 10 days leading up to the flight I received five emails from Ryanair, four of which were identical, headed ESSENTIAL REMINDER FOR YOUR TRIP in bold, capital letters, red and underlined. A couple of lines down it said: “Failure to comply with local travel requirements may result in you being fined or denied boarding or entry into your destination.” That too was in bold and underlined. There was then reams of copy about the E.U. Digital Covid Travel Certificate, passenger locator forms, masks and tests, until it returned to its theme: “Failure to produce required forms/negative Covid test results may result in boarding/entry to your destination being denied and may also result in very expensive, on the spot fines.” By this point you’re thinking: “Christ, should I really have booked this holiday? Is it worth the pain and stress?”

It didn’t start too well. At the Ryanair departure gate at Stansted, already a whirlpool of anxiety and hassle thanks to the staff’s incessant cries of “are you double vaccinated?” and “your bag’s too big, you have to pay extra”, I was called forward, unmasked as ever, clutching my exemption letter from my GP, and came face-to-mask with, well, let’s call her Eva. She peered at my letter for a long time before drawing herself up.

“I’ve let you on this time,” she said with the imperiousness of the Empress of India, “but this is out of date”, and she pointed to “July 30th, 2021” on my letter.

Worth reading in full.

Thousands of Foreign Tourists Let in Every Day as Britons Are Ordered Not to Travel

While the rules on travelling abroad have recently been made even tougher for Brits, thousands of foreign tourists are arriving in the country every day. Hundreds of these are arriving on tourist visas issued by the Home Office. The Times has more.

One visa was granted to a tourist from Peru who said on their application form that the reason for their trip to the UK was to “visit Big Ben”.

Of the roughly 20,000 people arriving every day about 40%, or 8,000, are tourists, according to figures compiled by Border Force staff.

At Gatwick and the Eurostar terminals, as many as 80 to 90% of arrivals are tourists. In contrast, the proportion of tourists among arrivals at Heathrow is estimated to be about 20 to 30%.

New Covid rules which came into force at the end of last month make it illegal for Brits to go to an airport without a “reasonable” excuse. Rule breakers face fines of £5,000. Lucy Moreton, of the Immigration Services Union, has said that the arrival of thousands of tourists into Britain each day, set alongside this ban on Brits holidaying abroad, is “deeply unfair”.

It causes immense distress to Border Force staff to be constantly granting entry to individuals for reasons that would be impermissible for a UK resident. It’s deeply unfair for staff who cannot visit their own family in the UK or abroad who will be fined for doing so from this week to be seeing these numbers of arrivals of people coming to visit family in the UK, let alone go on holiday in the UK.

Worth reading in full.

Holiday Ban Is a Kick in the Teeth for Tourism and Hospitality, Says Hotel Owner

English hotelier Sir Rocco Forte has written a scathing piece in the Mail about the Government’s ban on foreign travel. Covid rules which come into force today mean that it is illegal to go to an airport without a “reasonable excuse”, with rule-breakers facing fines of £5,000. Sir Rocco says that “this holiday ban is yet another kick in the teeth for my industry, hospitality, and for the whole economy, which relies heavily on international trade and tourism”.

The past year has seen countless erosions of our once-cherished freedoms to deal with Covid. The latest is an incomprehensible ban on foreign travel. …

So-called “non-essential” foreign travel will be banned until at least June 30th – although, given the Government’s fondness for repeatedly extending restrictions into our freedoms, some doubt that even that date will be met. Former Government adviser Professor Neil Ferguson said last week: “I think we should be planning on summer holidays in the UK, not overseas.”

This holiday ban is yet another kick in the teeth for my industry, hospitality, and for the whole economy, which relies heavily on international trade and tourism. The UK is on course to have a tourism industry worth over £257 billion by 2025 – almost 10% of GDP and supporting almost 3.8 million jobs, about 11% of all the employment in this country.

Frankly, the Government’s approach makes no sense. In January, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told us we would be able to “cry freedom” when the most vulnerable in society had been vaccinated. In a great success story for the NHS, we have now inoculated more than 30 million people, giving protection to the groups that account for 99% of Covid deaths.

All our most vulnerable will have had the option of taking a second jab by the end of April – and we know the vaccines work.

But now the doom-mongers scare us with talks of “new variants” of the virus, even though viruses mutate all the time and most scientists say our existing vaccines could be tweaked to deal with them.

Exemptions to the Government’s travel restrictions are permitted for work, medical needs, education, weddings and funerals.

Sir Rocco points out that the cost of prioritising “beating” Covid above all else is greater than the cost of Covid itself.

The political calculation seems to be that the damage to the economy, the harm caused to mental health, a record NHS waiting list of 4.6 million (with the missed cancer diagnoses and other serious problems that brings), a huge surge in unemployment and bankruptcy can all be excused as long as ministers are seen to be doing everything they can to fight the virus. These are skewed priorities.

Instead, what we are going through now and will face in the near future is thanks entirely to Government decisions – and is an unmitigated disaster.

His concerns about the damage being done by Government regulations to the hospitality sector have been echoed by nine Conservative MPs who have written in today’s Times that “kneejerk demands to sacrifice an industry carry costs”.

Failing to reopen air travel would be devastating to exporters, as well as our tourism and hospitality sectors.

Sir Rocco’s piece is very much worth reading in full.