Tourism takeoff: All dressed up and everywhere to go — but SA lagging

SA kicks off its Travel Month with tourism starting to recover. But the country should be doing a lot more to attract visitors, say experts.
There are signs that tourism is bouncing back. Pandemic lockdowns sucked the life out of an industry that had sustained growth for decades.
In June, the UN World Tourism Organisation released its World Tourism Barometer, showing an increase of 182% for international tourism in the first three months of 2022 compared with the previous year. That’s still 60% below pre-pandemic levels, but by March there was an uptick in international arrivals, indicating a strong second quarter due to the northern hemisphere’s summer holidays.
It’s been fits and starts as the industry claws through the fallout of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, global economic conditions and climate change.
International tourist arrivals increased by just 5% in 2021, due to travel restrictions in large parts of the world, and were still more than a billion short of pre-pandemic levels. This compared with the growth seen between 1980 and 2019, when numbers skyrocketed from 277 million to nearly 1.5 billion, with brief blips caused by the SARS epidemic of 2003 and the financial crisis.
Europe and the Americas lead the recovery, with Europe welcoming more than four times the international arrivals of last year; in the Americas arrivals more than doubled.
South Africa is lagging, as other long-haul destinations with less attractive offerings pump energy and resources into tourism. Experts believe SA would be recovering far quicker if the public and private sectors stopped working in silos.
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SA Tourism, a division of the Department of Tourism, had its Sho’t Left Travel Week last week, targeting domestic travellers, but it was unable to provide data on hotel occupancy rates or other requested information.
David Frost, CEO of Satsa, the voice of inbound tourism, noted a bounce back from the US and the UK, but said South Africa was too reliant on luxury travel.
“It’s one of our opportunities, but we tend to only focus on the five-star market. Australia outperforms us in terms of arrivals, with far less product, because business and the private sector plan, strategise and execute together. Here, it’s the opposite.”
Vanessa Ratcliffe, co-founder of Southern Destinations, operates in the luxury American market. She said while the company was busy, a significant amount of work was in facilitating trips postponed due to Covid.
“The trend is ...