The U.K. is South Africa’s biggest tourism source market outside Africa with more than 400,000 British travelers ordinarily visiting every year, according to official figures. That figure plunged to less than 10,000 so far this year because of the pandemic.
Flight Centre, one of South Africa's biggest travel agencies, said it was struggling to cope with the demand sparked by the British announcement.
“The minute the announcement came through we could see on our online booking tools as well as our email inquiries and telephone calls this morning that there was a big surge," Andrew Stark, Flight Centre Travel Group managing director, said Friday. “It has been pretty manic.”
“We see this as most source markets open up, the following day we are inundated, we just cannot keep up with the demand, to be honest," he said.
Rosemary Anderson, chairwoman of hospitality association FEDHASA, said she is also seeing “a flurry of activity of South Africans wanting to travel to the U.K. and British people wanting to come to South Africa.”
“We are going into summer, the U.K. is going towards autumn and many British people have not been able to travel to sunny places, so that makes South Africa a great destination for them,” she said.
South African tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu also welcomed the British decision, which comes in time for the start of the country's peak tourism season near the end of the year.
“We look forward to welcoming our British visitors in time for the South African summer season and we will continue to work tirelessly with all our national and international partners to ensure the success of South Africa’s tourism recovery,” Sisulu said in a statement.
South Africa's important tourism industry has been decimated by the pandemic and the damage was prolonged by the U.K. keeping it on the red list, stakeholders said.
South Africa is Africa's worst-affected country by the virus, with more than 2.9 million cases and 88,000 deaths reported. It is also the country where the beta variant was first detected. It has vaccinated 16% of its population of 60 million people, according to Johns Hopkins University, and started issuing digital vaccine certificates which may be used by travelers on Friday.
All of the 22 other African countries still on Britain's red list will also be removed on Monday, leaving the strictest travel restrictions in place for just seven countries: Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.
AP journalist Gerald Imray in Cape Town contributed.