The number of tourists from the majority of the top 10 countries visiting SA declined on an annual basis in August, according to data released by Stats SA on Monday.
The tourism sector — seen as a means to unlock jobs and economic growth in SA — has been battling to stay competitive due to uncertainty over visa arrangements for visitors from certain countries, travel rules for minors and concerns over crime.
Tourism accounts for 9.2% of total employment, and represents 8.6% of all economic activity in SA, according to data from the World Travel & Tourism Council.
Though arrivals for foreign travellers overall increased 3.5% on a year-on-year basis, with departures increasing 2.8% — the number of tourists from seven out of the top 10 countries visiting SA declined in August.
Only visitors from Italy, the US and India increased. The number of tourists from the remaining seven countries — the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Australia, China and Spain all declined.
The biggest drops came from Australia, down 11%, China, down 10.6% and Germany, down 6.67%. Tourists from these countries accounted for 73.5% of all tourists visiting SA from overseas.
On a cumulative basis, overall tourist numbers between January and August 2019 declined by 1.5%, from the same period in 2018, according to Stats SA.
Between January and August overseas numbers — of tourists coming from outside Africa — dropped by 2% from the same period in 2018, with European tourist numbers declining by 3.4%. On a cumulative basis tourist numbers from the rest of Africa also fell by 1.4% “Concerns around crime, heightened by the xenophobic incidents, continue to dissuade tourists,” Investec economist Lara Hodes said in a note.
“However, the recent easing of regulations, particularly those relating to the need to provide an unabridged birth certificate when travelling with children is a positive development and should support the increase in tourist arrivals going forward.”
The government has recommitted itself to tackling problems with the visa regime.
President Cyril Ramaphosa recently told a gathering of investors in London that the state has prioritised immigration reform and changes to the visa regime to grow tourism and attract skilled professionals to SA.
BY LYNLEY DONNELLY