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Poor economy puts festive season tourism under pressure

Dec 28 2017 18:51
Tehillah Niselow

Johannesburg - Domestic tourism is facing a tough time this festive season, according to South African Tourism. 

The state-owned company, which is responsible for marketing the country as a tourist destination, said preliminary figures show popular spots such as Durban and Cape Town are doing “quite well”, but the challenge is trying to grow the travel pie in other provinces.

SA Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona believes there are a number of factors behind people shunning trips across the country. These include high fuel prices and mobility not being ingrained in South Africans as a result of the apartheid legacy.

He told Fin24 that many people looking to travel around the country don’t have access to information about more affordable packages. December is also a popular period for overseas visitors, hiking the prices for locals.

Tourism, which is a key industry for South Africa, contributed 9.3% or R402bn to the country’s gross domestic product in 2016 and Ntshona said Treasury is increasingly looking to the labour intensive sector to boost growth.

In recent years, however, domestic tourism has weakened. According to Statistics South Africa's domestic travel survey in September, there has been a decline in local spending on travel with the figure plunging from R110bn in 2014 to R87bn in 2016.

The main cause for not undertaking overnight trips in 2016, Stats SA was told, was "financial reasons”. The official number of holiday makers in 2017 will be released in the first quarter of 2018.

Ntshona shrugged off the political noise in the country, which he feels concerns ratings agencies and investors and didn’t have an impact on the number of international arrivals.

“The modern day traveller has discounted all of that - the world is upside down, there’s no immediate threat [in SA] and we continue to market South Africa as an affordable and exciting destination.”

Tourism for all

Ntshona said SA Tourism will launch a smartphone application in mid-2018. This will allow travellers to search for accommodation according to geolocation or specific interests.

SA Tourism hopes this will allow people to discover “hidden gems”, away from the tourist hotspots.

Ntshona points out that South African National Parks has more beds to offer visitors than any hotel or resort chain and other smaller accommodation venues will allow people to travel, regardless of the price tag they can afford.

In Cape Town, dam levels dropped to 33% this week and the strict water restrictions on residents are also being applied to holidaymakers.

Ntshona said SA Tourism encourages tourists who would usually go to the Mother City for six days to reduce that to three days instead, and “follow the water” inland. 

“The drought in Cape Town has heightened the need to do tourism sustainably… [we are] impressed that the tourism industry has responded”.

Mandela centenary year

South Africa has big plans to attract tourists in 2018, the centenary year of the late president Nelson Mandela, who was born in Mvezo in the then Transkei on July 18 1918.

SA Tourism will identify 100 spots that have a Mandela link, such as his house, his law office and the court house where he was sentenced, and develop an application allowing people to check in and compete for the highest number of sites visited.


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tourists  |  sa economy  |  tourism

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