Making the most of tourism advantage

Estimated read time 6 min read

The local tourism sector is striving to recover from 2018 levels, when it contributed 10.47 million visitors and 8.7% to GDP. From that height, the disruption of covid resulted in it making only 3.7% of GDP in 2020, with 1.5 million jobs being lost. As revival occurs, it is likely that, pre-covid figures will be surpassed within the next two years. It will also be crucial for government agencies and other stakeholders to be conversant of the sector’s statistics and their implications, in order to ensure that available policies and strategies are supportive of the targeted growth. 

Latest statistics and developments

In December, last year, Statistics South Africa published details which show that there were 7 620 873 international tourist arrivals in the first 9 months of 2023. Most were from within Africa. Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho provided abundant visitors, who made up 1 898 136, 1 212 559 and 1 057 040, respectively. From oversees, Europe, North America, Asia, Australia, Middle-East, alongside Central and South America, provided 1 114 293, 370 574, 182 497, 94 806, 51 779 and 40 740 in arrivals, respectively. The overseas travellers made up, 1 854 689 and overwhelmingly, 85% of them or 1 579 673, came from “the Western world”. 

The situation in Durban is most-discouraging, as a Daily Maverick report by Naledi Sikhakhane on, 4 January, states that, in 2015, 7.4 million people visited the city, with direct consumption of R19.2 billion. The numbers have since plummeted to a discomforting 800 000 visitors for the whole of 2023, with a meagre R1.6 billion in direct expenditures, expected. A major reason for the meteoric fall, is attributed to the closed beaches which are regularly cordoned due to the presence of E. coli bacteria rendering them unsafe. After the 2022 floods, sanitation systems were disrupted with reports of raw sewage now flowing into the river systems thereby flowing into the ocean. Unchecked criminal activities, overcrowding, decaying infrastructure and filth in the city centre have also exacerbated the situation. 

Amongst the greatest threats to tourism growth in the country are issues to do with safety, load-shedding, water supply disruptions and high travel costs. Security issues have been placed under a greater spotlight with robberies on a tour bus in the North West, in December 2023, adding to already negative sentiment and concerns. The Department of Tourism has also been working hard to be equal to the task. In November last year, Minister Patricia De Lille presented the National Tourism Safety Strategy  to foreign diplomats. The plan includes a Tourism Monitors Program (TMP), which involves the deployment of 2 300 youths at key tourist hotspots to enhance safety, awareness and decrease vulnerabilities. A database of crimes against tourists will also be compiled, in order to understand trends in the crimes and pre-empt further incidences. Under the program, victim support which entails aid and counselling will also be provided, in case the worst happens. 

Interpretation of trends and statistics
The overseas arrivals show that SA needs to strengthen its relationship with the West, in order to grow visitors from that region. In this regard, the Department of International Relations should capacitate all influential persons in government and the ruling party, so that their bilateral relationships and interactions with the West are sanitary. 

Overbearing inflows from the African region also reveal the need to remove barriers for more countries on the continent. Some local professionals insist that they end up organizing regional conferences in Kenya or other more accessible countries, since the Visa regime to SA is not as welcoming for all nations on the continent. 

In order to improve more tourist flows, the existing attractions will need to be marketed more passionately, both domestically and internationally. Placing locations such as the Drakensburg, Table Mountain, V&A Waterfront, Kruger National Park and other destinations on local currency (South Africa Rands), for example, goes a long way to make the destinations more visible and appealing. As international tourists return to their homelands with Rand notes, which they will keep as memorabilia, that will also provide further marketing of destination South Africa. Thus, the South African Reserve Bank should be fully conversant of its influences on the local tourism sector. A stable domestic currency would also spill into greater disposable incomes which is favourable for domestic tourism.

Regarding the decline of tourism in Durban, the Minister of Water and Sanitation, alongside his’ counterpart in the Department of Tourism, will need to do a cost-benefit analysis, where they evaluate the cost of fixing the dysfunctional sewage systems against the benefits of a revived tourism sector, alongside the reduced risk on the health of the residents. A state of disaster may need to be declared in the Metro, as the situation is redeemed. 


Diplomatic missions should be assigned the task of marketing SA and its resorts in the countries where they have been dispatched. This would entail having a website which highlights the different local destinations. Their marketing should be concentrated in the West, which is the source of the most overseas tourists and should include even the inexpensive social media marketing. Moreover, the ambassadors’ performance should be evaluated based on growth of tourists from their regions.

Adding more activities at the various tourist attractions, would be judicious. In this regard, government or private sector, may establish theme parks, hot air balloons, aquariums, children’s play areas, pools or water slides next to the sites. These will act as additional attractions which draw more visitors. Sponsoring major events such as international golf tournaments, jewellery, art, bird, fishing or cultural festivals, can also draw attention from the right quality of tourists. 

Additionally, foreign passport holders arriving at each airport should be given pamphlets which showcase SA’s various tourist resorts and free cell phone sim cards, with airtime and data. This would enhance the marketing of alternative tourist destinations in the country. With 1 million visitors, for example; R10 airtime, 1 gigabyte of data and a pamphlet, could cost just USR50 each, or R50 million, in total (1 million x R50). The benefits could however flow into hundreds of millions or billions in tourist revenues.

Most importantly, the country will need to court more tourists as it assumes the G20 presidency in 2025. The more than 60 meetings held by the bloc, each year, will can draw millions of more travellers. Having delegates to extend their stay or spread supportive word-of-mouth when they return to their countries, will serve great good for the tourism sector and the economy at large. 

Kevin Tutani is a political economy analyst-

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours