Paying R7 for a Coke is daylight robbery
THE LADY BEHIND THE COUNTER was quite upset when George said he didn’t want the tin of Coke anymore. “I wouldn’t pay R7 for a tin of cool drink even if I had a billion rand in the bank.”
We’re not talking about being served by a young waitress in a fancy restaurant, getting a tall glass with ice while sitting on a Wetherly’s chair here. No, this R7 Coke comes with a plastic straw from a little shop at Knysna’s harbour.
Arguments that most of the customers are tourists and willing to pay high prices don’t hold water. In international terms, that tin of cool drink costs nearly US$1 – double the price at any small shop in the United States.
George wonders if this is the right recipe to grow tourism in SA? Let everybody sit in an aeroplane for 14 hours and charge them criminal prices for basic stuff like a tin of cool drink.
Visitors are even easier targets in restaurants. After a free bread roll they’re morally obliged to order a meal and pay the price. In exceptional cases there are even two prices: one for visitors and another for South Africans (remember to talk Souf Afrikên English and park in the space reserved for the disabled).
If we stop overcharging we might attract more international tourists. The Environment & Tourism Ministry wants us to believe that SA received nearly 4,6m international tourists in first-half 2006 – 15% more than in the previous year.
But most of those aren’t rich Europeans or Americans who fly here in new Airbus jets with a wallet stacked with credit cards. Statistics SA’s detailed survey shows that more than 75% of those “holiday makers” are travelling by car or bus to SA from African countries to the north of us.
The real figure for tourists arriving by air was a much lower 1,495m during the nine months to end-September last year.
Most of those – 341 400 – came from Britain, which suggests that many of them might be emigrants coming to visit family rather than tourists with pockets full of money. Over the same nine months, 196 533 Americans and 172 264 Germans visited SA.
Most of the other “tourists” from the rest of Africa look like immigrants coming to SA to look for work rather than to shop for curios in one of our national parks or to splash about in Sun City’s artificial waves.
Whichever way the figures are looked at, everyone agrees that there are growth opportunities. If nearly 1,5m real tourists visited SA over a period of nine months, we’re looking at an average of (only) 5 461 international tourists/day in SA. We have hotels, tourist resorts, nature reserves, guesthouses and luxurious tented camps to accommodate a lot more.
If every tourist stays only 10 days in SA, we need around 55 000 beds in hotel rooms and other places every year. At the cheaper rates of guest houses at R300/night – not our five-star hotels at R2 000 – those tourists spend about R16,5m while sleeping.
George reckons that if every British tourist brings only £500 for eating, drinking, sleeping and entertainment, SA receives tourist income of R10,6bn/year. Hopefully, they enjoy themselves enough to phone home and organise another £500 on the credit card so as to stay a little longer. Or US$2 000 or 1 500 euro – we’re willing to accept any currency. The industry can grow a lot, and has to grow to create employment.
The price of a tin of Coke – and a plate of seafood, a hotel room and a rental car – is important if you look at the expectations with regards to the tourism industry, which has been identified as one of the two most important sectors in SA to stimulate economic growth.
Together with competitive pricing goes good service and, especially in SA, the safety of our guests. It’s stupid to say that tourists shouldn’t go for a romantic stroll on the beach. It’s part of the holiday experience to sit on a bench and listen to the waves.
And to say that crime is no worse here than anywhere else – and that it’s the m e d i a ’s fault for creating the impression that it is – is even bigger nonsense.
In June last year, the British insurance company Norwich Union found in an investigation of its travel insurance claims that SA is the world’s most dangerous holiday destination. The data comprised real claims by victims of crime while travelling. Yes, those Brits – our biggest tourism customers. Some 60 000 insurance claims were analysed in the study.
SA has the dubious honour of being the world’s holiday destination where the Brits are most likely to be attacked with weapons or assaulted. The risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident is nearly as high. Only in Thailand are British tourists more likely to experience accidents.
George thinks it must be especially traumatic for a visitor to SA to be involved in a car accident. We already accept that more than 1 000 people will die in accidents every holiday and that thousands more will be hurt.
We don’t raise an eyebrow to the fact that 13 000 people die on our roads every year. It equals three road deaths every two hours. We also accept the shortage of ambulances, trained emergency workers and even blood plasma.
The visitors who survive our roads have a good chance of being robbed or having their luggage stolen. SA is first on the list of holiday destinations where tourists’ luggage disappears, and holds second place where things are most likely to be stolen.
And that doesn’t include the daylight robbery when paying for an overpriced cool drink.