South­ern Africa: The lux­ury hub of Africa?

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Inside - Words: JO KROMBERG

There are two im­ages most peo­ple con­jure up when they hear the word “Africa”. And these could not be more po­lar op­po­site. The one con­sists of the poor, sickly ema­ci­ated child cov­ered in flies in the mid­dle of a refugee camp which in turn is in the mid­dle of some hor­ror civil war. Sir David At­ten­bor­ough re­gal­ing us with tit-bits about the mat­ing habits of the lesser-spot­ted stick in­sect of the African bush in fas­ci­nated hushed tones as he leers back at us through the cam­era, clearly sweat­ing un­der the hot sun. Then lo! A lion some­how un­ex­pect­edly makes its way into the shot, en­ter­ing stage left.

of course Africa is eons more fas­ci­nat­ing, com­plex, mys­ti­fy­ing and mys­te­ri­ous than mere un­ruly, gun-tot­ing rebels on the one hand and ul­tra- lux­ury lodges sport­ing the so-called Big-5 on the other.

The col­lec­tive coun­tries in the SADC re­gion – the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity - are made up of 15 mem­bers States namely An­gola, Botswana, Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo (DRC), Le­sotho, Mada­gas­car, Malawi, Mau­ri­tius, Mozam­bique, Namibia, Sey­chelles, South Africa, Swazi­land, Tan­za­nia, Zam­bia and Zim­babwe. Estab­lished in 1992, SADC states that it is com­mit­ted to re­gional in­te­gra­tion and poverty erad­i­ca­tion within south­ern Africa through eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and en­sur­ing peace and se­cu­rity. Of these, a num­ber are not strictly speak­ing in south­ern Africa had one to be a stick­ler for ge­og­ra­phy. The DRC is in Cen­tral Africa. Tan­za­nia is in East Africa. Le­sotho is an in­de­pen­dent coun­try com­pletely sur­rounded by South Africa which kinda makes it a south­ern African coun­try within a south­ern African coun­try. Mada­gas­car, Mau­ri­tius and the Sey­chelles are is­lands. Yet, be­tween them (with the ex­cep­tion of An­gola), they amount to the big­gest tourist money spin­ners on a con­ti­nent of 54 coun­tries, in­clud­ing is­lands. Why?

Well, Africa is not called the Dark Con­ti­nent for noth­ing and we can safely blame his­tory for mak­ing South Africa the very south­ern-most light at the end of the tourism tun­nel.

It is ar­guably the gen­er­ally best known des­ti­na­tion for tourists to Africa and with its legacy of Euro­pean set­tlers and of course much later Nel­son Man­dela, to­gether with its good road in­fra­struc­ture, rel­a­tive ease of move­ment and di­verse and breath-tak­ing land­scapes, it pro­vides a one-stop shop for many for­eign tourists. Even so, Mr Sisa Nt­shona, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of South African Tourism is not one to be­come com­pla­cent and rest on the lau­rels of des­ti­na­tion rep­u­ta­tion: “We need to show tourists that South Africa of­fers more than the beach, the berg and the bush – we of­fer a va­ri­ety of au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ences, flavours and smells, within a safe, se­cure and com­fort­able travel en­vi­ron­ment. We need to tar­get mil­len­ni­als who want to travel with pur­pose and leave know­ing their rands spent have made a pos­i­tive im­pact on the econ­omy, the en­vi­ron­ment and so­ci­ety. It’s also vi­tal to drive aware­ness among con­sumers and op­er­a­tors of fair trade and re­spon­si­ble tourism prin­ci­ples.”

He be­lieves South Africa’s big­gest tourism as­sets are a com­bi­na­tion of things. “It’s the di­ver­sity of our peo­ple. It’s our flavours, our smells, our food, our colours, our mu­sic, our wildlife – and also, of course, our coun­try’s nat­u­ral beauty. The di­ver­sity of our peo­ple is mir­rored in the di­ver­sity of our land­scape, and the ex-

pe­ri­ences we of­fer. You can go from Sand­ton to the bush in two hours, and get to the beach in an hour via plane, all in the same coun­try.”

He also em­pha­sizes the lack of at­ten­tion paid to do­mes­tic tourism in South Africa. “Most tourism economies around the world have a strong do­mes­tic tourism foun­da­tion and on top of that comes the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket, but we are the other way around. The prob­lem with that sit­u­a­tion is if the world de­cides not to travel to South Africa, we have a se­ri­ous prob­lem as our do­mes­tic rev­enue stream is so low. So it’s im­por­tant that we build a ro­bust do­mes­tic tourism space – it has to start there. We have var­i­ous ini­tia­tives on the go to build a cul­ture of hol­i­day travel at a lo­cal level.”

As South Africans we un­der­stand the need to up­lift peo­ple from for­merly de­prived back­grounds but if the nec­es­sary train­ing doesn’t ac­com­pany this no­ble quest, a guest from France or Ger­many can very eas­ily ruin an es­tab­lish­ment’s rep­u­ta­tion with com­ments like “rude, lazy and un­trained staff”.

Yes it is still true that South­ern Africa has it all, es­pe­cially for the lux­ury-ori­en­tated trav­eller. It boasts two of the best lux­ury trains in the world, namely Rovos Rail and The Blue Train. Hav­ing trav­elled on both, I can tell you dear reader, these ex­pe­ri­ences are what some peo­ple suf­fer and work for, for most of their lives to ex­pe­ri­ence. And it’s worth ev­ery sec­ond and ev­ery penny.

The South Africa lux­ury hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try is huge.

It has the ad­van­tage of the legacy of Sol Kerzner, in many in­dus­try spe­cial­ists’ opin­ion the best hote­lier in the word, who cre­ated a hos­pi­tal­ity model now glob­ally fol­lowed. It has the ad­van­tage of hav­ing al­lowed ex­cel­lent brand-rep­utable ho­tels to move into the coun­try over the past 10 years such as US-based Mar­riott ho­tel group. In Oc­to­ber last year they signed a deal with South African Amdec prop­erty de­vel­op­ment group, an­nounc­ing a part­ner­ship that will see R3 bil­lion be­ing in­vested in five brand-new lux­ury ho­tels over the next three years, two of which will be built in Jo­han­nes­burg and three in Cape Town.

Ac­cord­ing to Pierre Heis­tein,tourism spend­ing in the SADC re­gion reached $41.4 bil­lion (R678bn) in 2014. Leisure tourism ac­counted for 68.4% of spend­ing while busi­ness tourism ac­counted for 31.6%.

In to­tal, 24.5 mil­lion for­eign visi­tors en­tered the SADC coun­tries and gen­er­ated

Yes it is still true that South­ern Africa has it all, es­pe­cially for the lux­ury-ori­en­tated trav­eller. It boasts two of the best lux­ury trains in the world, namely Rovos Rail and The Blue Train.

$19.8bn worth of spend­ing – 7.9% of the re­gion’s to­tal ex­ports.

The vast ma­jor­ity of this spend­ing was in South Africa but in or­der to com­pete with South Africa’s tourist in­flux, Zim­babwe and Zam­bia have re­cently ended the first trial pe­riod for the Ka­vango-Zam­bezi visa launched in Novem­ber 2014. The visa al­lows for tourists from 40 coun­tries to travel be­tween Zim­babwe and Zam­bia on one visa with­out hav­ing to process ap­pli­ca­tions sep­a­rately.

The pro­gramme has now en­tered its sec­ond trial pe­riod to ad­dress the prob­lems un­cov­ered in the first. Once the creases have been ironed out, the visa will be ex­tended to An­gola, Namibia and Botswana.

South Africa as a coun­try lags be­hind in aware­ness of the big­gest trav­el­ling mar­ket in the world – the Chi­nese. Coun­tries such as the Sey­chelles and Mau­ri­tius have years ago iden­ti­fied this mar­ket as key to tourism growth and have in­vested sub­stan­tial amounts in Man­darin speak­ing staff.

An­other fac­tor driv­ing the Chi­nese away from tra­di­tional Euro­pean mar­kets are safety con­cerns and se­cu­rity. Ter­ror­ists threats in Europe are on the in­crease while si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­cline in south­ern Africa. But will the Chi­nese still choose South Africa in­stead of opt­ing for “real” sa­fari ex­pe­ri­ences like South Luangwa in Zam­bia or the Oka­vango Delta in Botswana? Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by The World Travel and Tourism Coun­cil, tourism to Botswana is ex­pected to in­crease by at least 5% YOY for the next 10 years.

South Africa saw a de­cline of 600 000 tourists in 2015, down by 8% from 2014 ac­cord­ing to Grant Thorn­ton. This year how­ever, saw the first quar­ter of the year re­bound­ing ex­cep­tion­ally in tourist ar­rivals to the coun­try, with an es­ti­mated 18.7% growth in ar­rivals for the first three months of 2016, com­pared to the first quar­ter of 2015.

Most for­eign tourists ei­ther opt for a combo tour, in­clud­ing some south­ern African coun­tries or only opt for South Africa.

Will South Africa achieve the enor­mous po­ten­tial in tourism growth so ob­vi­ously needed to boost the coun­try’s ail­ing econ­omy and unem­ploy­ment? Only time will tell.

Tourism spend­ing in the SADC re­gion reached $41.4 bil­lion (R678bn) in 2014. Leisure tourism ac­counted for 68.4% of spend­ing while busi­ness tourism ac­counted for 31.6%. In to­tal, 24.5 mil­lion for­eign visi­tors en­tered the SADC coun­tries and gen­er­ated $19.8bn worth of spend­ing – 7.9% of the re­gion’s to­tal ex­ports.”

- Pierre Heis­tein, Eco­nomic ad­vi­sor, an­a­lyst and colum­nist.

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