Many have been yearning for a road trip out in the warm South African sun as a release from the cabin fever associated with the lockdown.
While not doubting the love one has for family, several months of being in lockdown together may leave all involved with feelings of claustrophobia, irritability and the need to get away from it all.
As the fight continues against the COVID-19 pandemic, which necessitated the implementation of a national lockdown,, the country moved to stage 2 of the lockdown from midnight, 17 August 2020.
The move to level 2 has come with the further easing of restrictions implemented in the last several months under the risk-adjusted alert levels to stabilise soaring COVID-19 infections.
Not only have more sectors of the economy opened up, the country has also seen new confirmed cases of the virus drop.
The move to level 2 also saw restrictions on interprovincial travel lifted, opening the way for accommodation, hospitality venues and tours to operate, albeit observing approved protocols to ensure social distancing.
The move to allow interprovincial travel could not have come at a better time for those wanting to see their loved ones in other provinces, as well as for those wanting to explore the domestic tourism sector.
The South African National Parks (SANParks) were among those who welcomed the lifting of restrictions on interprovincial travel.
SANParks opened overnight accommodation to intra-provincial guests on 14 August 2020 at most of its parks. The new government regulations and protocols were likely to result in restrictions when coming to overnight accommodation occupancies.
The conservation authority manages 19 national parks in seven of the country’s provinces, including the ever-popular Kruger National Park (KNP).
“We have to adjust to the new normal and include the COVID 19 rules as part of operations,” General Manager of Communications and Marketing at the KNP, Ike Phaahla, tells SAnews.
This as SANParks continues to open hospitality operations gradually in a move to ensure optimum readiness to accommodate guests, who at this point are in desperate need of a change of scenery.
For those considering a midweek or weekend getaway this Tourism Month, Phaahla says booking through central reservations is essential.
“Like before, people still have to book with central reservations. Check-in has not changed much. The process now has the inclusion of the COVID-19 rules. For example, there are markings for social distancing, people are required to sanitise before handling any paperwork and must wear masks in public areas at all times,” explains Phaahla.
Some of the parks owned by SANParks have been undergoing refurbishment during the lockdown period, with reopening plans based on the assumption that tourism facilities would be allowed to reopen around mid-September 2020.
The Kruger boasts 12 rest camps, five bushveld camps, two bush lodges and four satellite camps.
“The majority of the camps have reopened, with the exception of a few such as Orpen, Roodewal and Maroela” Phaahla says.
South Africans, who are keen to connect with nature, have so far taken full advantage of the reopening of the KNP.
However, in earlier levels of the lockdown, the park provided South Africans, who were stuck indoors, with healthy doses of its rich wildlife through pictures and short webcam videos posted on its social media platforms, including Twitter.“The animals are fine. They were more visible during the [earlier stages of the] lockdown, as they had taken over what belongs to them,” Phaahla chuckles.
Self-drive excursions for day visitors have been taking place at the Kruger from 8 June 2020 under level 3 of the lockdown. The majority of gates at the park have been operational, with the exception of Pafuri and Numbi gates.
While SANParks was operational under level 3 of the lockdown, it was not open for overnight accommodation, as per the then lockdown regulations on leisure and interprovincial travel.
At the time, day self-drives were permitted for residents of the various provinces in which the respective national parks are located.
As the country commemorates Tourism Month in these unprecedented times, the park is eager to welcome nature-starved citizens.
“We look forward to welcoming more visitors as lockdown rules are being relaxed and to continue to conserve and maintain the ecosystem for the benefit of all humanity,” said Phaahla.
Spoilt for choice
South Africa is endowed with endless beautiful attractions, waiting to be explored.
“The tourism attractions are there for people to enjoy and be proud of. Please visit them with your families so that as your children grow up, they become ambassadors of these sites and have knowledge that they need to be conserved and protected,” says Phaahla.
While the country’s borders are yet to be reopened, the KNP has received interest from international tourists hoping to visit the park one day.
“We receive feedback, especially via social media platforms, from international tourists wishing [to visit] the park. But they will have to be patient as the borders are still closed not only in South Africa, but in other countries as well,” Phaahla said.
Tourism creates employment, particularly in deep rural areas where national parks are located.
Phaahla echoed Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane’s comments that the sector plays an important role in the development of rural communities by way of poverty alleviation, employment creation and overall stimulation of economic activities.
In an address to the Pretoria National Press Club earlier this month, Kubayi-Ngubane said without government’s intervention, the tourism sector was on course to lose between 500 000 and 600 000 jobs.
As the sector further opens up, Phaahla shared some advice for who are in two minds about safely exploring the country in a time of COVID-19.
“Come and experience your natural heritage. However, please always adhere to the health protocols in line with COVID-19, even when you are in the KNP, as these protocols are meant to save our lives,” says Phaahla.
Kubayi-Ngubane has encouraged South Africans to travel locally as the tourism sector attempts to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
By visiting attractions around the country and exploring their splendour, we can help the sector get back on its feet and help create much-needed jobs. – SAnews.gov.za