Business Maverick


Tourism numbers to SA are up — but far below where they should be

Tourism numbers to SA are up — but far below where they should be
Most international tourists to South Africa came from Europe, North America and Australasia. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

South Africa is still battling to recover from last year’s devastating travel red listing, but there’s a glimmer of good news on the domestic tourism front.

Tourist numbers to South Africa were up more than half a million in July — three times more than July 2021. That’s still off a low base though, as the sector battles to recover from the pandemic and the country’s devastating inclusion on the red list.

Stats SA released its latest Tourism and Migration statistics for July 2022 on Tuesday, which show that 2,075,688 travellers had passed through the country’s ports of entry and exit. Of these, 715,714 were South African residents and 1,359,974 foreign travellers. 

Of the foreign arrivals, 737,350 comprised 66,571 non-visitors and 670,779 visitors, comprising 162,955 same-day visitors and 507,824 overnight visitors, or tourists.

It indicated that 122,720 tourists were from overseas; 376,566 from SADC countries; 7,740 from “other” African countries, with 798 tourists classified as hailing from “unspecified” countries.

Most of the international tourists came from Europe, North America and Australasia.

Of those, most tourists came to SA for a holiday — not study, business or medical treatment: Within the overseas regions, 98.4% (4,836) from Australasia, and 98.4% (30,309) North America came here on holiday, followed by the Middle East, 97.8% (6,628); Central and South America, 96.8% (2,997); Europe, 96.6% (64,044) and Asia, 92.6% (10,004).

In July 2022, the distribution of overseas tourists was: Europe, 66,322 (54%); North America, 30,807 (25.1%); Asia, 10,803 (8.8%); the Middle East, 6,779 (5.5%) Australasia, 4,914 (4%); and Central and South America, 3,095 (2.5%). 

The release coincided with World Tourism Day, which has been celebrated annually on 27 September since 1980.

To mark the day, Cape Town’s Central City Improvement District (CCID) released its State of Cape Town Central City Report 2021 — A Year in Review,  reflecting on what it called tourism’s “crash and burn” during the pandemic — worsened by the Omicron variant in late 2021. 

After the initial destruction caused by the pandemic, this couldn’t have come at a more grim time as international travel bookings fell like dominoes.

The domestic tourism sector had counted on a recovery towards the end of 2021, after South Africa was removed from the travel red list in October, which had an immediate effect on occupancy rates as they rose by 50%. 

Within 48 hours of Omicron’s discovery in late November, South Africa’s tourism and hospitality sectors lost about R1-billion in cancelled bookings. And by the middle of December, SA once again faced heightened travel restrictions from around 90 countries.

Cape Town, as the country’s tourism hub, was the hardest hit by international cancellations, explained Kirsty de Groot of HTI Consulting. 

“Prior to the pandemic, the tourism industry employed close to 50,000 people directly, and generated around R15-billion per annum. The average international tourist spends nine times more during their time in Cape Town than local visitors spend.” 

The silver lining, though, was domestic travel. 

Cape Town Tourism, conducting a dipstick survey to analyse the market response, found that 57% of its members — which include restaurants, hotels, shopping malls and tour operations — had performed better in December 2021 than the previous year and almost two-thirds (64%) had reported a rise in domestic visitors.

Occupancy in the greater Cape Town region was at 32.2 % for the year ending December 2021, which had increased from a disappointing 28.3% in 2020. 

The CCID said that 2021 had seen a number of hotels reopening after 2020 and the launching of new properties, including the 500-room Hotel Sky, Old Bank Hotel, The Capital 15 on Orange, and the Rockefeller.

Domestic tourism, it said, was instrumental in saving the central city and its visitor economy. Tasso Evangelinos, CEO of the CCID, said in a statement that the latest statistics reinforced that the Cape Town inner city was not only the best place to work, live and play, but it had also proven to be resilient. 

“This is the core of the city, where business, pleasure, travel and entertainment merge, and it is because of the locals that we survived many hurdles in 2021.”

The city is also benefiting from efforts to open the skies. On 19 September, Air Belgium resumed flights to Cape Town after an earlier touchdown in Johannesburg. Air Belgium is now offering competitively priced bi-weekly direct flights to Brussels. 

In 2021, Belgium was the Western Cape’s seventh-largest European export market and SA’s 10th-largest trading partner in terms of the rand value of exports. It’s a massive opportunity for the airline as more than 35,000 passengers flew between the two destinations in 2019.

For the first six months of 2022, 500 tonnes of air cargo were flown between the two destinations.

The airline is expected to add additional air cargo capacity of 1,500 tonnes to and from SA.

The new route will be operated by the Airbus A330neo, which has a 286-seat capacity in a three-class layout (30 lie-flat business class, 21 premium class and 235 economy class seats). The aeroplane consumes on average 25% less fuel than previous-generation aircraft.

The Johannesburg and Cape Town routes are the airline’s only continental Africa flights.

Commenting on the launch, the City’s Mayco Member for Economic Growth, Alderman James Vos, said: “Through Air Access, we are connecting Cape Town International Airport with more and more key source markets. And this is why this city government proudly funds this programme. 

“This unique project brings together the City of Cape Town, the Western Cape provincial government, the Airports Company of South Africa, Cape Town Tourism, Wesgro and private partners for a collaborative effort to take this city and province to the world. 

“Air Access demonstrates the power of partnerships. Enhancing Cape Town’s connectivity to other hubs across the globe improves the city’s competitiveness, leading to more trade, investment and economic growth. 

“During my engagements with Air Belgium and the Consul-General of Belgium, we discussed the many benefits of this route between our two regions when it comes to travel and trade opportunities. Improved connectivity in air cargo and travellers enhances the level of productivity, opens up new markets, boosts exports and increases tourism.” 

Emirates Airlines — announced on Monday as the world’s third-best airline — has also ramped up services to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, with the announcement that it would be expanding its schedule to and from Johannesburg with three daily flights from 1 March 2023. Cape Town will have two daily services starting on 1 February 2023. Emirates is also adding two more flights to Durban, making it a daily operation from 1 December 2022.

With the double daily service to Cape Town, the airline will have restored its pre-pandemic schedule. Earlier this year, Emirates and the South African Tourism Board signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly promote tourism and boost visitor arrivals to SA across the airline’s network of more than 130 passenger destinations. BM/DM


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