Un­pack­ing SA tourism num­bers

Finweek English Edition - - INSIDE -

In April Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma glibly an­nounced to a crowd at the V& A Wa­ter­front in Cape Town: “The coun­try that used to be a pariah state is now at­tract­ing more in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors each year.” The pres­i­dent said that in 1993 for­eign tourism stood at a mere 3.4m. “By 2012,” he added, “the f ig­ure had grown 300% to 13.5m vis­i­tors, of which 9.2m were tourists.” Zuma con­grat­u­lated him­self and the in­dus­try, say­ing he was “ex­tremely happy with our tourist ar­rivals fig­ures” and de­scribed tourism growth in South Africa as “phe­nom­e­nal”.

To be a lit­tle more spe­cific, the 2012 num­ber was 9.188m in­ter­na­tional tourists. The 10.2% im­prove­ment on 2011 couldn’t be ar­gued, and given that 2010 was the year of the FIFA World Cup, 20+% growth since that tour­na­ment can­not be ques­tioned ei­ther. Vis­it­ing CNN Busi­ness an­chor Richard Quest echoed Zuma in prais­ing the growth fig­ures and cred­ited Tourism South Africa for do­ing a “blind­ingly good job”.

How­ever, a closer in­spec­tion of the fig­ures by eNews Chan­nel Africa host Eleni Giokos re­vealed the fol­low­ing on 17 May:

Six and a half mil­lion of the 2012 fig

ure are for­eign vis­i­tors from South Africa’s neigh­bour­ing coun­tries:

1. 1.8m from Zimbabwe (up 19%)

2. 1.6m from Le­sotho (up 6%)

3. 1.1m from Mozam­bique (up 2.1%)

Th­ese three coun­tries rep­re­sent more than 4.4m vis­i­tors, which rep­re­sents 68% of the to­tal num­ber of tourists from other African coun­tries. While Quest called Giokos “elit­ist” for not tak­ing th­ese re­gional vis­i­tors se­ri­ously, Giokos pointed out that Le­sotho’s en­tire pop­u­la­tion is less than 2.2m. Can you call it tourism when the equiv­a­lent of 73% of a coun­try’s to­tal pop­u­la­tion visit in a year, es­pe­cially when that coun­try is one of the poor­est in the world?

The same could be asked of Zimbabwe and Mozam­bique. Zimbabwe is of­fi­cially the third-poor­est coun­try in the world (2011 GDP per capita is $ 487) and Mozam­bique the four­teenth-poor­est ($1 085). Are we talk­ing tourists or mi­grants? How much money do they spend while in South Africa, and how much do they take with them when they go back? Do they work while in SA? And do they stream back to their home coun­try at the same rate at which they en­tered?

The less im­pres­sive side of the num­bers was glossed over at the end of the pres­i­dent’s speech, wrapped in some gen­er­alised feel-good mumbo jumbo: “Re­gional Africa re­mains the pil­lar of our tourism econ­omy,” he said, “and we are happy to see that ar­rivals from the re­gion have main­tained

the solid growth path we have be­come ac­cus­tomed to. Africa’s im­por­tance to our tourism in­dus­try will con­tinue to grow, as African economies are amongst the best per­form­ing economies in the world at the mo­ment.”

How­ever, the three economies that con­trib­ute most of the “tourists” to South Africa most cer­tainly don’t count “amongst the best-per­form­ing economies in the world at the mo­ment”.

At face value, a 300% in­crease over 20 years in the num­ber of in­bound tourists, from 3.4m to 9.2m a year, is im­pres­sive. This rep­re­sents an aver­age an­nual in­crease of 15%, but in ab­so­lute terms the fig­ures are less im­pres­sive.

In France, by com­par­i­son, the Eiffel Tower in Paris alone at­tracts 6.7m tourists a year; the whole of France al­most 80m. Mex­ico, a coun­try more read­ily com­pa­ra­ble to SA, at­tracts 23m tourists per year. Sin­ga­pore, a tiny coun­try of only 710km2, is the twen­ti­eth most-vis­ited coun­try in the world and at­tracts more tourists than SA with its 1m km2. Clearly size is not the is­sue. And while spec­tac­u­lar nat­u­ral scenery will al­ways pull the crowds, the world’s big­gest tourist draw­cards are pre­dom­i­nantly man­made struc­tures or at­trac­tions.

Thus it should come as no sur­prise that SA’s busiest tourist at­trac­tion is the V& A Wa­ter­front, not Ta­ble Moun­tain. Does our tourism mar­ket­ing mir­ror th­ese num­bers?


At 10.2% in 2012, SA’s tourist num­bers are grow­ing by more than twice the global aver­age, which was es­ti­mated at 4% by the UN World Tourism Or­gan­i­sa­tion in the same year. If tourists from other African coun­tries are ex­cluded, the growth rate is an even more im­pres­sive 15.1%. For how long can South Africa keep up this aboveav­er­age per­for­mance?

Given the re­cent de­cline in the ex­change value of the rand, SA’s pop­u­lar­ity as a des­ti­na­tion should grow among tourists with a stronger cur­rency. How­ever, it’s just as well Zuma made his an­nounce­ment in the last week of April. The fig­ures for Jan­uary of this year came out a month later, and th­ese don’t look good at all. The big­gest drop in tourist num­bers came from our most im­por­tant source mar­ket, the UK, which plum­meted a huge 18.66%. Ger­many dropped 6%, China 3.52% and the Nether­lands also more than 18%. Over­all, over­seas vis­i­tor num­bers de­creased by 3.66%, or from 210 253 in Jan­uary 2012 to 202 548 in Jan­uary this year. For­tu­nately, a few mar­kets bucked the trend, in­clud­ing the US (up 2.67%), Brazil (up 12.55%) and In­dia (up al­most 15%).

Even so, a large pro­por­tion of those that are counted as over­seas tourists are in re­al­ity merely trav­ellers in tran­sit. Stats SA de­fines a tourist as some­one who spends at least 24 hours in South Africa. For ex­am­ple, 38.5% of Chi­nese ar­rivals and more than 42% of Brazil­ian ar­rivals were trav­ellers in tran­sit, but were counted as tourists.

But ac­cord­ing to Chris von Ul­men­stein, who op­er­ates Whale­cot­tage.com, SA’s first branded guest house port­fo­lio: “[The tran­sit statis­tics do] not ap­ply to In­dian tourists, the 15% in­crease in ar­rivals from this coun­try ref lect[s] the great work which is be­ing done by SA Tourism in that coun­try. Its head, Han­neli Slabber, has just been recog­nised as Sa­fari In­dia National Tourism’s ‘Best Pro­fes­sional in Mar­ket­ing’.”

The re­al­ity of SA’s in­dus­try fur­ther emerges when di­rect spend­ing by tourists is used as a mea­sure. De­spite the 10.2% in­crease in the num­ber of tourists, th­ese vis­i­tors spent only 7.6% more than in the pre­vi­ous year. Tellingly, re­gional tourists spent 2.3% less than the pre­vi­ous year. The aver­age length of stay also di­min­ished by al­most a full night, from 8.5 nights to 7.6.

Since tourism from over­seas has not done as well as we may have hoped, what can be said for do­mes­tic tourism, in other words, South Africans trav­el­ling in their own coun­try?


Dur­ing the re­cent rugby match be­tween the Bulls and Chee­tahs in Bloem­fontein, the Free State sta­dium en­joyed a nearca­pac­ity crowd of 32 000. Sport is a big driver of lo­cal tourism, and not just for the big teams in Gaut­eng and the Western Cape.

Pop­u­lar Port El­iz­a­beth blog­ger Alan Stra­ton (mype.co.za) says: “Up un­til Fri­day night 15 March 2013, a to­tal of 527 529 rugby fans had at­tended 24 games at 11 sta­di­ums in SA, Aus­tralia and New Zealand. In com­par­i­son to AAMI Park in Melbourne, Aus­tralia, the lo­cal Nel­son Man­dela Bay Sta­dium crowds are top­ping at­ten­dance fig­ures and ac­count for 104 134 of the 527 529 fans that have at­tended live games – at an aver­age sta­dium ca­pac­ity of 75%. AAMI Park has hosted 37 173 fans at an aver­age sta­dium ca­pac­ity of 41%.”

By com­par­ing the three coun­tries in the Su­per Rugby com­pe­ti­tion, Stra­ton also points out th­ese in­ter­est­ing at­ten­dance fig­ures:

1. Games in South Africa: 231 721 spec­ta­tors filled an aver­age of 69% of sta- dium ca­pac­ity af­ter seven games hosted (with an aver­age at­ten­dance of more than 33 000)

2. Games in Aus­tralia: 189 653 at an aver­age of 49% of sta­dium ca­pac­ity af­ter af­ter 10 games hosted (av­er­ag­ing less than 19 000)

3. Games in New Zealand: 106 173 at an aver­age of 46% of sta­dium ca­pac­ity af­ter seven games hosted (aver­age of just over 15 000)

What’s more, Stra­ton says, Port El­iz­a­beth’s Nel­son Man­dela Bay sta­dium main­tains the high­est at­ten­dance of all Su­per

Rugby Venues for this pe­riod, at more than 75% af­ter three home games.

Smaller sport­ing codes, which re­ceive much less tele­vi­sion cov­er­age, are also at­tract­ing sub­stan­tial crowds. In Kim­ber­ley in the North­ern Cape, for in­stance, the Maloof Money Cup, a skate­board­ing world cham­pi­onship held in 2011, at­tracted more than 15 000 peo­ple over three days, in­clud­ing in­ter­na­tional com­peti­tors. The BMX World Cham­pi­onships and Moun­tain Bike Cham­pi­onships held re­cently in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg and the an­nual Iron­man com­pe­ti­tion in PE also at­tracted in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors. This also counts for mass-par­tic­i­pa­tion events like the Com­rades and other marathons, the Ar­gus bi­cy­cle race (the largest sin­gle-day timed cycling event in the world) and the Cape Epic, which has a very high pro­por­tion of over­seas com­peti­tors. Spend­ing by com­peti­tors in such events, both lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional, tends to be high, es­pe­cially when they’re ac­com­pa­nied by their fam­i­lies.


Much of SA’s tourism in­dus­try re­lies heav­ily on the aff lu­ent over­seas tourists that are sup­pos­edly land­ing on our shores in droves. The re­al­ity is that this sec­tor is of­ten strug- gling. An ex­am­ple is Plet­ten­berg Bay, a play­ground of South Africa’s wealthy.

Liz Phillips, who runs a five-star es­tab­lish­ment just out­side the town, points out that many top-end places in the area are clos­ing down.

One of Plet­ten­berg Bay’s most pres­ti­gious lux­ury ho­tels, The Plet­ten­berg, has closed down for this year’s win­ter. In May 50 staff mem­bers were re­trenched and the own­ers con­cede that The Plet­ten­berg has not been vi­able “for some time”.

Tony Romer-Lee, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the ho­tel group The Col­lec­tion by Liz McGrath, said re­cently: “We have been putting in money for a num­ber of years to keep the ho­tel op­er­a­tional, but we have to be re­al­is­tic. The Plet­ten­berg func­tions at the lux­ury end of the mar­ket, and if we are to keep up its stan­dards, then clos­ing the ho­tel dur­ing win­ter is the only op­tion.”

Phillips’ own busi­ness, Fyn­bos Ridge, is par­tially sus­tained by a num­ber of reg­u­lar high-end for­eign vis­i­tors, mostly Bri­tish, Ger­man and Dutch, many of them trav­el­ling with their fam­i­lies. “The South Africans are a lot more price sen­si­tive,” says Phillips, “and they tend to re­spond mainly to spe­cial of­fers. But we still of­fer good value to the over­seas mar­ket. They get a lot for what they pay. Some bed-and-breakfasts have de­cided to go a more mar­ginal route in terms of their pric­ing, and so stan­dards are slip­ping in some places.”

An­other is­sue trou­bling do­mes­tic tourism is a lack of fo­cus in many of the re­gional tourism off ices i n South Africa. Cor­rup­tion is a prob­lem, and means des­ti­na­tion mar­ket­ing is of­ten left to op­er­a­tors to do them­selves.

De­spite this, the South African Govern­ment seems keen to de­velop t he in­dus­try both lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally. At the end of May, the Min­is­ter of Tourism, Marthi­nus van Schalk­wyk, was in­vited to lead a new UN World Tourism Or­gan­i­sa­tion com­mis­sion in Bel­grade, Ser­bia, which will fo­cus on tourism de­vel­op­ment.

Van Schalk­wyk said at the time: “I be­lieve it will be pos­si­ble to un­lock mean­ing­ful new fi­nan­cial re­sources to fur­ther our work in the tourism sec­tor by dra­mat­i­cally scal­ing up our share of Of­fi­cial De­vel­op­ment As­sis­tance [ODA]. The tourism sec­tor re­ceived only $124m of the

Cape Town’s V&A Wa­ter­front

Pin­na­cle Point Golf Re­sort

Dur­ban fore­shore

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