Foreign Office condemned for snubbing African countries and issuing incorrect travel advice - THE TELEGRAPH UK
NOVEMBER 21, 2020
BY Sarah Marshall
They pride themselves on being a reliable source of information for British nationals, providing a tool to navigate the complexities of overseas rules and regulations. At a time when borders are opening and closing with little warning, their expertise should be even more vital – keeping travellers safe and helping damaged international tourism markets to heal.
Yet on multiple occasions during this pandemic, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) have got it wrong – especially when it comes to the African continent.
Both Zambia and the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe have been past victims of misinformation regarding quarantine restrictions and visa applications.
The latest inaccuracy involves Zimbabwe, where the FCDO claims a 14-day period of isolation is required for every visitor. That’s simply not the case, confirmed by a British passport holder who’s currently travelling in the country and described the whole entry process as “stress-free”, requiring only a negative PCR certificate and several medical forms. Despite the error being flagged up to the FCDO by Telegraph Travel on Wednesday, its advice has still not been amended.
For an industry already on its knees, errors of this sort – especially when published by an official body – can be extremely damaging. Understandably, many Zimbabwean hoteliers and travel agents are outraged and disappointed.
“The misperception of a prolonged quarantine requirement can only discourage travellers to come to Africa,” says Beks Ndlovu, founder of African Bush Camps, who have properties across Zimbabwe and are launching World Safari Day on November 25 to celebrate the (re)rise of the beleaguered industry.
“Domestic tourism has been the main vein to help continue our operations and support wildlife conservation and community upliftment. But companies are operating on their reserves. Less international tourism means less support for our conservation programmes.”
Chris Mears, CEO of the African Travel and Tourism Association, is equally concerned.
“It is vitally important that clear and accurate information is communicated by the FCDO as this is a source of information that the British public rely on. The Zimbabwean economy is heavily reliant on tourism income and this has been decimated in recent months and there is no way that a visitor would contemplate travelling if they had to self-isolate at their destination.”
He confirms the FCDO and the British Embassy were provided with the correct details regarding entry requirements. So why does the government body frequently get it wrong?
According to the FCDO, their advice is based on information gathered from embassies, local authorities and occasionally “intelligence services”.
Judging by the number of inaccuracies that have slipped through their net, however, Africa doesn’t seem to be a top priority right now.
“It simply makes no sense,” says Mears, who urges travellers to support ATTA’s #OpenAfricanTravel campaign by signing a petition.
“Africa has seen less than 4% of the global Covid cases and based on the number of cumulative cases per 100,000 head of population over a 14-day period the numbers from, for example, Kenya, South Africa and Botswana are substantially lower than those out of Chile, UAE and Bahrain, where air corridors were implemented last week.”
Paul Goldstein, a professional photographer and co-owner of the Kicheche safari camps in Kenya, has written to his MP about the topic every day for 100 days.
“I have battled with the Foreign Office over their advisories for 30 years but for 29 of those I at least felt they employed some sort of moral code to try to get their advice right: balancing safety with common sense both economically and operationally. Not anymore. The blanket non-essential ban on the whole of the African continent defies logic and if it was not so catastrophically damaging it would be humorous in its stupidity.”
To say frustration is mounting within the travel community is an understatement, and there’s now a growing feeling that Africa is being unfairly overlooked. Whether that’s due to prejudice, ignorance or the lack of political clout the continent wields is unclear. Perhaps it’s a combination of all three.
“I do feel Africa is being viewed very differently from other destinations,” says Mears. “This needs to change.”