The luxury travel consultant Joey Levy of Embark Beyond, was helping clients plan a dream honeymoon. Their desire was to go to Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa to see wildlife and Victoria Falls, staying in the best hotels in the region.
The couple were willing to pay a five-figure dollar bill for the ride. But they were surprised by the cost of PCR testing to identify covid-19. Each country visited demanded a negative result up to 72 hours before entry, and the hotel in Zimbabwe said it would only get one if it brought a doctor on a jet to that remote location—for $6,000.
“I could have chartered a flight to the doctor and it would have been cheaper,” recalls Levy, who ended up reorganizing the itinerary so that customers wouldn’t pay the exorbitant amount.
In the middle of a pandemic, it’s one thing to travel to remote places like the savannas of Zimbabwe or the jungles of the Amazon, and quite another to get the covid-19 test and paperwork needed to get to and from there — even with the help of an experienced travel agent. The problem is compounded for tourists who want to visit more than one country before returning home.
Some passengers are shocked by the size of the bill on such a trip — and it’s not always the agency’s fault.
Tour operators and resorts are using planes, boats and vehicles to transport tests to labs to meet test expiration dates. These companies do their best to follow rules that aren’t as simple as they seem. And many of these places depend on international tourists to survive.
In some countries, rapid testing of covid antigens is difficult to find, especially where the medical infrastructure is poor. Thus, travelers only have the alternative of PCR tests, which are more expensive and time-consuming.
The luxury safari operator Singite, which works with six hotels and camps in Tanzania, used jets and vehicles to transport government-accredited professionals to perform nasal swab tests and take the material to the laboratory in Dar es Saalam, more than 800 kilometers away.
The cost to the operator, passed on to tourists, was US$ 500 per test. Recently, Singita managed to lower the cost to US$300, thanks to the opening of a laboratory in Arusha, some 600 kilometers closer to the Serengeti National Park. The careful coordination of flights that transport professionals who carry out covid tests and passengers on arrival or departure also contributed to the cost reduction.
Because of the delay in transporting the tests to the labs, Tanzanian hotels had to impose a minimum stay of three days, with a daily rate per person costing about $2,500. Before, guests used to stay two days and go to another destination.
“It was very complicated and we had to put two people working full time on the logistic planning of the PCR”, says the operational director jo dances. “The company had to allocate a lot of staff time to this.”
Theoretically, guests can avoid these costs by carrying the covid test in their suitcase. Americans, for example, could use the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card 2 Home, which has been approved by the FDA for emergency use. The six-test kit sells for $150. Another home test, theEllume, sells for $45 per unit. Not all tests are approved by the FDA, and the package inserts and warnings about their use are quite complex.