Tourism Recovery Remains On Track

During January, sun-lovers from overseas continued to boost South Africa’s tourism industry, especially from countries in the Northern Hemisphere, where temperatures were still cold, and the days were still short.

In sharp contrast, the weather in South Africa was warm to moderate and sunshine was mostly still at play for more than 12 hours per day, despite summer solstice having passed on December 23. In addition, the country boasts a sophisticated and diversified tourism sector, catering for the needs of the full spectrum of overseas visitors – from backpackers seeking adventure to affluent travellers that enjoy the country’s cultural diversity and exceptionally high standards of hospitality in a large selection of luxurious hotels and game lodges.

January 2024 was characterised by huge year-on-year increases in the number of overseas tourists from countries that traditionally provide more than 1,000 tourists in the first month of the year.

The top-five source countries for tourist arrivals remain intact (the UK, Germany, the US, Netherlands & France), but due to the high base from which any increases are recorded, it is very difficult to match the growth performance of the “second division”. It is nevertheless most encouraging that citizens of the countries listed in the graph have developed a significantly stronger appetite to visit our shores.

It is a pity that some tourists have recently experienced the frustration of inadequate coordination between the various public sector institutions responsible for the facilitation and management of visas. A recent media report, subsequently confirmed by the Minister of Home Affairs, provided details of a directive to the Border Management Authority (BMA) that has caused confusion amongst tourists on short-term visas for 90 days.

The relevant Home Affairs officials have been instructed to enforce the directive, without the necessary communication channels from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) being in place. This is of particular concern to so-called sun-chasers, who visit countries like South Africa during the Northern Hemisphere winter to enjoy lengthy summer holidays. Many of these tourists are accustomed to maximising their stays by extending their visas for a further 90 days.

Unfortunately, several instances have been reported of tourists that had applied for such an extension in time but had not received their receipts or any communication from the DHA. According to David Frost, the CEO of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa), the root cause of this problem lies with the inability of the DHA to effectively communicate with applicants, whilst the DHA and the Department of Tourism were also not on the same page with regard to encouraging overseas travellers to extend their stay (and forex spending) in the country.

It seems clear that the DHA will have to beef up its administrative capabilities and expose BMA officials to training programmes based on international best practice regarding the management of inbound tourism. This should include a sound knowledge of the value added to the South African economy from tourist spending, especially in the areas of job creation and the generation of tax revenues.

A more pro-active tourism policy could also include invitations to tour operators in high-income countries to visit South Africa for a well-organised trip to expose them to the scenic beauty of our country and its diversified hospitality sector, especially tour operators that have not yet dispatched tour groups to this part of the world.

Tourism has the potential to generate jobs at a much faster rate than most other sectors of the economy and is an uncomplicated way to generate foreign exchange earnings. It deserves a higher policy priority.