Johannesburg, 24 October – In a week that reflected a less than sunny two-year decline in overseas tourism numbers, followed by flights being grounded due to technicalities – recent news that unabridged birth certificates may soon fall away is the first ray of light for a destination that should be thriving.
While the world is feeling the strain of a tough economy, South Africa’s drop in tourism can’t be pinned on global economics particularly when global tourism is growing - and on a smaller but relevantly competitive scale, so too is African tourism. Industry expert Christelle Grohmann, Director of the Tourism Specialist Unit at professional services firm, BDO says that South Africa has not made any ground in recouping the 1,3% drop in 2018 overseas tourists, which has now been compounded by the latest report of a 2% drop in overseas tourist arrivals between January to August 2019.
Figures released by Stats SA reflect that the biggest drop in overseas visitors for the year to date are from traditional markets such as France (-8,7%), Germany (-7,8% ) and Australia (--4%%); and it is these big international markets that account for a massive 74% of all overseas tourists visiting South Africa.
“Apart from the general decline, what is equally concerning is that African air arrivals are down by double digits (-16%),” says Grohmann. “These are the higher spending African tourists and an incredibly important market for South Africa.” While the local industry is losing out to African countries such as Egypt and Kenya – on a much larger scale SA is losing out to international destinations.
Grohmann, who co-directs BDOs tourism and hospitality advisory services, offers expert insights to clients in all sectors of the industry across the African continent. “If we look at the Tourism Business Index (TBI) prepared by BDO bi-annually, we’ve seen a couple of years of below normal business index figures and the index for the next 6 months indicates that the private sector does not feel the expected turnaround is going to come any time soon,” explains Grohmann. She points out that 2019 reflected the second lowest index figure in a 9-year period.
Grohmann says that one of the most poignant statements at the recent 2019 African Tourism Leadership Forum was that we can no longer expect the private sector to entrepreneur itself out of poor policy decisions. “The country as a whole - every citizen - needs to embrace tourism and make foreign visitors feel welcome. While the VISA improvements will certainly help tourists to get into the country, it won’t help them to make the decision to come to the country, ” says Grohmann. Every government decision, every act of xenophobia impacts the tourism and hospitality industry. “We often forget as a nation how many Africans live in America, Europe and our big tourist markets around the world – and while recent incidents are not directed at them, comfort levels are naturally affected.” As we approach the summer season, South Africa may yet experience a knock-on with fewer tourists booking their holidays over this prime period – particularly African tourists.
High profile events like the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are important to the country because they offer a visual window to potential international tourists. “We have made small gains in tourists from Italy and Brazil and this is positive because we need a more diversified international tourism industry, but we also need to work hard to maintain strong relations with our big visiting nations.
President Cyril Ramaphosa set the SONA 2019 goal of achieving 21-million tourists by 2030. This is double the number of tourists we had at the beginning of the year and equates to a 6% compound growth. This latest decline in figures highlights that SA is far from on-board to achieving this.
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