Tourists ‘may have de­layed un­til 2010’

Cape records six per­cent fall in rev­enue from an­nual in­flux of in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES - BIANCA CAPAZORIO

IN­TER­NA­TIONAL tourism to the West­ern Cape de­creased by 6 per­cent this hol­i­day sea­son, driven mostly by the ef­fects of the in­ter­na­tional re­ces­sion and a stronger rand.

Cape Town’s high-end ho­tels were the sea­son’s other ma­jor ca­su­alty as they showed a sig­nif­i­cant slow­down this year, com­pared with pre­vi­ous years.

Calvyn Gil­fel­lan, CEO of Routes Un­lim­ited, said there had been mixed re­sponse about the sum­mer hol­i­day sea­son from across the prov­ince. In­ter­na­tional tourism, which in 2008 con­trib­uted R20 bil­lion to the econ­omy, had de­clined by about 6 per­cent, he said, mostly due to the re­ces­sion.

Gil­fel­lan how­ever said he be­lieved this would pick up this year as Europe, Amer­ica and Canada started their slow eco­nomic re­cov­ery.

In ad­di­tion, he said, it ap­peared that in­ter na­tional vis­i­tors were show­ing an in­ter­est in be­ing in South Africa for 2010, even if not specif­i­cally for the World Cup.

“At a lot of the in­ter­na­tional tourism shows peo­ple are say­ing they want to be in South Africa the year the first World Cup is hosted on the African con­ti­nent.

“So, even if they don’t come for the games, they might come be­fore or af­ter­wards.”

He said an­other pos­si­ble rea­son for the de­cline in in­ter­na­tional tourism to the prov­ince this sea­son was that foot­ball fans would be sav­ing their money to at­tend the World Cup, which kicks off in June.

Gil­fel­lan said that de­spite the drop in in­ter na­tional tourists, there had been keen in­ter­est in the West­ern Cape shown by South Africans.

“The min­strels’ car­ni­val saw lower num­bers this year, but there were still sig­nif­i­cant num­bers from Gaut­eng and KwaZulu-Natal in the crowds.”

There was also a “sig­nif­i­cant slow­down” in the more up­mar­ket ho­tels and restau­rants as do­mes­tic mid­dle-class fam­i­lies stayed away from them, opt­ing in­stead for good value and more time on the city’s beaches.

The Cape chair­man of Fed­hasa (Fed­er­ated Hos­pi­tal­ity As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa), Phillip Cou­varas, said top-end and five-star ho­tel oc­cu­pancy rates were down about 10 per­cent on the pre­vi­ous year, mostly due to the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion.

“The econ­omy has af­fected peo­ple’s abil­ity to stay in lux- ury ho­tels,” he said.

There had been a shift in trends that had seen three and four-star ho­tels out-per­form­ing last year’s oc­cu­pancy rates as peo­ple opted for bet­ter-value hol­i­days, Cou­varas said.

He said that in­ter­na­tional tourists had been no­tice­ably ab­sent, due to the econ­omy and the stronger rand.

“In the past, when the ex­change rate was R14 to the pound, South Africa was very good value, but the rand is very strong now and this year it just wasn’t good value.”

Cou­varas said that restau­rants had ex­pe­ri­enced a slow start to the sea­son, but had re­ported good busi­ness from Christ­mas Day on­wards.

“We strug­gled to get guests into restau­rants. The good ones were well-sup­ported across the city and as far as Fran­schhoek.”

Beaches across the city were packed this hol­i­day sea­son with record crowds turn­ing out at some of the beaches.

On the Gar­den Route the sea­son started very late, and in the week be­fore Christ­mas was qui­eter than in pre­vi­ous years.

Cou­varas said this could have been due to the mas­sive drought there, or be­cause the shorter school hol­i­days made fam­i­lies de­lay their trips slightly.

CEO of Knysna tourism Shaun van Eck con­firmed that the sea­son had started later but, he said, the pop­u­lar hol­i­day town had been at “full ca­pac­ity” by the peak of the sea­son and was still en­joy­ing high oc­cu­pancy rates.

He said the sea­son had been “sat­is­fac­tory” and the drought had had lit­tle ef­fect on the tourist sea­son.

“We were pro-ac­tive in get­ting the mes­sage out that peo­ple can still come, and peo­ple re­sponded very well to re­quests to use wa­ter re­spon­si­bly.”

He added that wa­ter us­age was sig­nif­i­cantly lower than dur­ing the pre­vi­ous sum­mer sea­son. “We are very happy, con­sid­er­ing the tough eco­nomic year peo­ple have had and the fact that a lot of peo­ple didn’t get bonuses or had smaller bonuses than usual.”

Van Eck said there had been a higher spend a head in Knysna and spending on restau­rants and hol­i­day ac­tiv­i­ties like Knysna’s pad­dle cruiser had been good. Re­tail was, how­ever, marginally down from 2008.

Re­ports from the Over­berg re­gion, Gil­fel­lan said, in­di­cated that the sea­son had been about the same as last year.

In the winelands, Tul­bagh and Zeerust said they had reached bet­ter rates than in pre­vi­ous years, but other ar­eas within the re­gion had re­mained more or less sta­ble.

Ini­tial re­ports from the West Coast in­di­cated that fig­ures were sig­nif­i­cantly higher than in pre­vi­ous years, but Gil­fel­lan said this growth came off a low base.

ROOM FOR MORE: Tourists travel by boat to Robben Is­land. This sea­son’s in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors opted for bet­ter-value hol­i­days, says Fed­hasa chief Phillip Cou­varas.

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