Tourists not bit­ing de­spite weak rand

CityPress - - Business -

With the weaker rand – which took another tum­ble over the past few days – busi­ness should be look­ing good for Mpumalanga tourism op­er­a­tors. But it isn’t. Since last year, tourism op­er­a­tors in a province known for its vast at­trac­tions say they have lost be­tween 15% and 50% of their over­seas clients.

Matthew Louw, a branch man­ager for Hyl­ton Ross – which of­fers sa­fari tours in the Kruger Na­tional Park – says tourists have been can­celling their trips be­cause of the new visa reg­u­la­tions. Visas now re­quire unabridged birth cer­tifi­cates for chil­dren un­der the age of 18, in ad­di­tion to pass­ports.

“We should be mak­ing a lot of money, but we’re bat­tling. There have been can­cel­la­tions due to the visa reg­u­la­tions, Ebola, xeno­pho­bia and, to some ex­tent, the at­tacks in east Africa,” he says.

“The other day, I had a very happy cou­ple from Eng­land and they spent £3 500 (R71 000) here.

“Per­haps things will im­prove in the busy sea­son from Septem­ber, but it doesn’t look rosy at the mo­ment.”

The rand de­pre­ci­ated to an all-time low of 14 to the US dol­lar at the be­gin­ning of the week, as mar­kets plunged around the world over con­cerns about China’s eco­nomic health. The lo­cal cur­rency did im­prove slightly on Fri­day morn­ing to R13.14.

Another tour op­er­a­tor, Tanya Ruf of Oliver’s Res­tau­rant and Lodge in White River, agreed with Louw about the con­straints brought about by the new visa reg­u­la­tions. “The weaker rand won’t help and tourists pre­fer to go to other coun­tries in Africa where reg­u­la­tions are less strin­gent. I would es­ti­mate we’ve had a 10% de­cline in our tourist num­bers. There have been peo­ple we have booked who have can­celled,” Ruf says.

“The weaker rand is def­i­nitely in our in­ter­est, but tourists are los­ing in­ter­est in us.”

Ruf says 65% of their tourists are for­eign.

Mpumalanga is a favourite for over­seas tourists be­cause of the Kruger Park, which boasts the Big Five as well as ex­clu­sive pri­vate lodges.

Ac­cord­ing to the latest Tourism Satel­lite Ac­count for SA re­port, tourism di­rect GDP was R103.6 bil­lion in 2013, com­pared with R93.5 bil­lion in 2012.

The Tourism Busi­ness Coun­cil of SA es­ti­mates that the coun­try will lose in the fol­low­ing ways: 100 000 tourists will stay away in 2015 be­cause of the visa reg­u­la­tions and the R1.4 bil­lion to­tal net loss will re­sult in 9 300 jobs be­ing lost.

– Sizwe sama Yende

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