Tourists ‘may have delayed until 2010’
Cape records six percent fall in revenue from annual influx of international visitors
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.