Business Maverick


South Africa’s tourism income wobbles as strict lockdowns and UK red list bite

A passenger wheels luggage through the departures hall at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg in February 2020. (Photo: Guillem Sartorio/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

South Africa’s tourism remains on its back after the strict Covid-19 lockdowns during the Northern Hemisphere summer and violent riots in July, worsening the hit the labour-intensive sector has taken from the country remaining on the UK red list.

Tourist accommodation income statistics released by Statistics South Africa on Monday showed seasonally adjusted income from accommodation plunged by 36.8% month-on-month in July, with guesthouses and hotels recording double-digit contractions, wiping out the increase from the first three months of the year. 

Year-on-year, income from tourist accommodation was up 121.8%, the huge jump largely down to base effects, as July 2020 coincided with the strictest period of the lockdown when international borders were closed and interprovincial travel largely restricted.

July income was at R618-million compared with R183.4-million the year before. Compared with the 2019 figure for the same month, R2.3-billion, the lag is revealing.

Occupancy rates for hotels were 12.7.%, while guesthouses were at a lowly 7.9%. Total occupancy rate slumped to just 16% in July, from 21.8% in June. 

With the UK government keeping South Africa on its Covid-19 red list, travellers who have been in SA in the previous 10 days will only be allowed back into the UK after a mandatory quarantine period costing up to £2,285 per adult (R45,000) and about that for children between five and 11 years old.  

Last week UK authorities published an updated red list, removing Egypt and Kenya while keeping SA on it despite petitions by the South African foreign affairs minister to have the decision changed. 

Business Leadership South Africa has written to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, asking him to reassess the decision, saying that citing fear of the fast-spreading Beta variant was baseless, as the majority of South Africa’s most recent infections were of the Delta variety. 

According to Stats SA, the UK was South Africa’s top source of foreign tourists in 2019 and 2020, with 437,000 and 132,000 respectively. Tourism directly accounts for about 3% of gross domestic product and about 10% indirectly, while accounting for around 4.5% of total employment. DM/BM


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