The warning lights are flashing for the tourism industry in South Africa, which is in danger of losing its status as the most popular tourist destination on the African continent.
Although overall visitor arrivals are up, people from key overseas tourism markets are heading elsewhere.
StatsSA’s 2018 tourist data released recently shows an increase in arrivals of 1.8%, to 10.4 million last year – but visitors from wealthy overseas markets are down from as much as 11% from the Middle East and New Zealand, to 3.8% fewer from the UK, 1.7% less from Germany, 5% less from France, 8% fewer from the Netherlands and 4% fewer from India.
Tourism analysts Christelle Grohmann and Lee-Anne Bac, advisory directors in the tourism specialist unit at BDO South Africa, said the impact of a decline in overseas markets was significant as these were the tourists that make the most use of tourist products such as accommodation, attractions and travel.
“These declines not only impact negatively on spend and employment, but may put the hard work to add additional air routes (2.2 million seats added last year) in jeopardy.”
The gloomy assessment is backed up by new research released by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) which shows that SA’s travel and tourism GDP shrank by 1.9% in the past year to $32.1 billion (R464.8 billion), while Egypt’s travel and tourism sector became the fastest growing in North Africa, increasing by 16.5% to lift the country to a $29.6 billion (R428 billion) gain.
Egypt could well overtake South Africa as the continent’s top tourist attraction by 2020.
Egypt’s steady rebound in recent years has been linked to the improved security, said WTTC in a statement. What’s more, 2018 represents the second year of record growth for Egypt. In 2017, the growth rate was a substantial 54.8%.
Even more impressive in terms of growth in tourism is Ethiopia, which stands out as the world’s fastest-growing travel economy, growing by 48.6% last year to be worth $7.4 billion.
International travel and tourism spending made up a massive 61% of exports. This can be attributed, in part, to Ethiopia’s improved connectivity as a regional transport hub and to recent visa relaxation policies.
SA’s decline is particularly stark when viewed against Africa’s booming industry: growing 5.6% in 2018, compared to the global average of 3.9%.
Grohmann and Bac said the negative trend in overseas arrivals was expected to continue into 2019. They said the industry needed investment into marketing and infrastructure. “We need a plan and we need it now.”