This debate was organised by the Academy of Ideas in partnership with SATSA, the voice of inbound tourism for South Africa.
The United Kingdom leads much of the world when it comes to getting Covid jabs into arms. But extensive foreign travel bans remain, justified by the government as necessary to keep the UK safe from the ongoing threat of coronavirus. As the British and Irish Lions ready their rugby jerseys to depart on a historic tour to play the world champions, South Africa, they will do so without the legions of fans who have made the tours so famous. The fans, and indeed all UK tourists, will be deprived of the rugby, wildlife and culture for which South Africa is famous.
Many insist such bans are a necessary step to avoid the spread of new variants – especially the ‘South African’ variant, which is said to render some vaccines less effective. Yet the implications of shutting our doors not just to South Africa but to a host of regions across the world have rarely been explored. As well as threatening trade links and international ambitions, such restrictions pose profound questions for international tourism and travel. Aside from the possibility of sand and sunshine, what do those restrictions mean for cultural exchange and the joy of discovery? What do new rules, such as testing and masking, mean for the fluidity, even spontaneity, of international travel?
As well as this, what do the bans mean for the UK’s aspiration of creating a ‘global Britain’ post-Brexit? What about Britain’s role in the Commonwealth? And what does this all mean for the countries affected – countries that had only recently been seen as emerging engines of global economic growth and important centres of cultural dynamism? Are they to be abandoned, excluded from the economic opportunities of trade and development as well as important travel links which support cultural exchange and ecological protection? Are such bans a necessary and reasonable precaution in the face of a still-evolving public-health challenge? Or, as some allege, is there an unsavoury undertone to dismissing many of the emerging economies as ‘unsafe’ or even ‘diseased’?
- Alastair Donald
associate director, Academy of Ideas; co-convenor, Battle of Ideas festival; convenor, Living Freedom; co-director, Future Cities Project
- Sherelle Jacobs
columnist, Daily Telegraph
- Virginia Messina
senior vice president, advocacy & comms, World Travel and Tourism Council
- Michael Spicer
chair, Wesgro, the Cape Town tourism, investment and promotion agency
- Mo Lovatt
programme coordinator, Academy of Ideas