NATIONAL NEWS - Cabinet has agreed to ease restrictions around leisure travel, paving the way for citizens to travel within their provinces of residence.
As soon as the new regulations are gazetted, leisure travel within your own province will be allowed.
“It’s only for intra-provincial travel, not inter-provincial. If you’re in Gauteng, you’re allowed to travel within Gauteng. You can’t go to KwaZulu-Natal,” Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said on Thursday.
Accommodation establishments will be permitted to operate for leisure intra-provincially.
However, no more than two people may share a room, except for a nuclear family, parents and their children.
“Establishments are already legally obliged to require and keep a copy of proof of identity,” the Minister said, adding that short-term home rental or sharing remains closed.
Speaking at a briefing on the new regulations affecting the travel and leisure sector, Kubayi-Ngubane said tour operators will be allowed to conduct guided tours in open safari vehicles, subject to directions, including the provision for both social distancing and maximum ventilation.
Restaurants to close at 22:00
Under the new regulations, diners will be able to enjoy meals at restaurants until 22:00. The curfew was previously 21:00. However, alcohol is still off the menu.
The Minister believes that extending operating hours will go a long way in helping to increase the eateries’ revenue.
“The impact of the pandemic has been devastating for the sector. Many businesses are at risk and many jobs have already been lost. However, we are doing everything we can to ensure that the impact is minimised,” she said.
Kubayi-Ngubane said the changes will come into effect as soon as the new regulations are gazetted.
In supporting the tourism sector in this crisis period, the Department of Toursim redirected R200 million through the Tourism Relief Fund (TRF).
Of the 7 284 valid applications submitted, the department could only assist 4 000 businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector.
“Allocation of funds was conducted in line with government policies and ensured that there was an equitable share of resources across all regions of the country, including rural areas and small towns or dorpies,” Kubayi-Ngubane said.
However, 3 284 applications were not funded due to depletion of resources, even though some qualified.
“Reasons for non-approval ranged from enterprises with an annual turnover of R5 million and above, non-tourism enterprises, enterprises not covered under the TRF guidelines like franchise restaurants, applications with the outstanding mandatory document such as a valid tax certificate, and those without supporting documents."
The Minister said letters detailing the reasons for unfavourable considerations are being prepared and will be issued to all unfunded applicants soon.
Meanwhile, Kubayi-Ngubane said the department was encouraged by the letters of appreciation from patriotic South Africans, black and white, who did not listen to the “misleading noise that the relief was specifically for black people”.
“This ultimately confused and discouraged even those who qualified for the grant not to apply.”
Support for tour guides
The department said the announced R30 million financial relief for freelance tourist guides, over two to three months, is underway.
However, the processing of payments has taken longer due to some provincial offices closing down after they had positive COVID-19 cases.
The department has received a list of 9 380 tourist guides from the provinces. However, some are registered with Unemployment Insurance Fund.
“To avoid double-dipping, we have initiated a verification process to ensure that only those who are not receiving income benefits [get aid],” the department said.
The first batch of payments to 1 378 verified, eligible beneficiaries has been made and the second group will be paid once the verification process is completed on 31 July 2020.
“In addition, we welcome the decision by the Minister of Finance to review and change the qualifying criteria for the R200 billion COVID-19 Loan Guarantee Scheme, so that more businesses can gain access to the funds. We encourage businesses in our sector to [take] this opportunity,” Kubayi-Ngubane said.
She has also welcomed the announcement by Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi to extend the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) until 15 August 2020.
“This will go a long way for many businesses and employees,” she said.
The Minister said since the outbreak, the department has been having regular interaction with various stakeholders.
"These interactions, which are almost on a weekly basis, have helped us to gather inputs from all stakeholders on how best to reopen the sector and support the recovery going forward.”
The department will formalise the working relationship with sector players through the formation of a task team, which brings together a broad spectrum of private sector players and officials from the Department of Tourism, to work towards reopening the sector and resolving other challenges.