South Africa has opened its borders from Thursday after almost six months of an international travel ban from late March when the country went into lockdown due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The tourism sector was one of the industries that have been hard hit by this.

It is now hoped that the opening of borders will give small tour operators the much-needed cash injection to help their businesses recuperate.

Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane says the opening of domestic travel has provided a testing mechanism for the country and they believe South Africa is ready to welcome international travelers.

The resumption of inter-provincial travel has allowed many South Africans to tour the country and visit relatives or go on holiday in other provinces.

Tourism industry bleeds due to COVID-19: 

Gauteng has been abuzz with local tourists exploring eateries, picnic and hiking spots. Cradle Moon Lakeside Game Lodge is one spot that not only caters for those looking for a relaxed bushveld experience in the heart of the Cradle of Humankind, but is attracting a large number of hikers.

The route from Muldersdrift to Maropeng draws cyclists alike, all excited to be out and about, exploring what the province has to offer. SABC News caught up with some local tourists who say they have missed travelling.

“What I missed about traveling is getting to sightsee and unwind, going to different places and different weather and be able to see what the world has to offer, domestically or internationally. I missed shopping and staying in hotels.”

Vilakazi Street in Soweto has also come alive again. Lebo Malepa, owner of Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, says the past couple of months have been challenging as they had to find innovative ways to save as many jobs as possible.

“The international borders will open and maybe by December we will have a bit of a boost since we have been relying on local tourists. People were not moving but financially people were still affected.”

Malepa says as they prepare to welcome the international market, they have had to change their pricing strategy in order to attract more tourists amid trying times.

“We started looking at reducing our prices, restructuring our tours. Packages that can be affordable for groups or individuals. Now that we know that borders will be opening, we are starting to look at marketing a see how can we reinvent ourselves and better position ourselves come 2021. We’ve tried to save as many jobs as possible and at the same time we are facing a serious financial impact that has affected the cost of the running of the business.”

Kubayi-Ngubane says as the borders open for international travellers on Thursday, health and safety protocols remain a high priority. She says the opening of domestic travel will assist South Africa on its road to economic recovery.

“The South African government has not abandoned its mission of balancing lives and livelihoods and that’s why we didn’t open for everyone. We had categorically opened for countries that are not high risk. When they come here, we would request that they prove that they are negative. So meaning the certificate to prove that they are COVID-19 negative will be one of the barriers that prohibits anyone that is sick to come in. So we are putting measures not to compromise South African’s health.”