Big boost for tourism as South Africa slowly shakes off the Covid crunch

 ·11 May 2023

The Department of Tourism has published its latest tourism data for the first quarter of 2023, showing a 102.5% increase in the number of international arrivals in the country compared to the same period in 2022.

According to minister Patricia De Lille there were a total of 2.1 million visitors to the country – however, this must still be taken in context of the Covid-19 pandemic and the national and international lockdowns which decimated travel.

Despite the increase, De Lille noted numbers are still 21.5% lower than 2019 pre-pandemic levels.

While the Covid pandemic feels like a lifetime ago, the end of the state of disaster for the pandemic was only declared in April 2022, with most restrictions and protocols – including those related to travel – remaining in place for 30 days after.

This means that the growth in tourism numbers – while cause for celebration – is still coming off a lower pandemic-impacted base.

De Lille said that the industry is gaining ground rapidly. From a domestic perspective, the department noted resilience, with Q1 2023 performance surpassing pre-pandemic levels and those of Q1 2022.

Tourism brings large amounts of foreign income into the South African economy, and over the first quarter of this year, foreign direct spending soared to R25.3 billion, said de Lille – a 143.9% increase compared to Q1 2022.

The majority of international visitors were from Africa, with 1.6 million arrivals, followed by Europe, with 387,000 and the Americas with 104,000 visitors.

“Tourists from Europe contributed the most spending of R10.8 billion, followed by Africa with a collective spend of R9.3 billion.”

“The overall foreign spending figure for Q1 this year is tantalizingly close to the R25.6 billion spent between January and March 2019 and showcases the industry’s unwavering resilience,” said the minister.

Bordering countries, including Zimbabwe and Mozambique, reflected impressive spending growth, reaching a total of R4.4 billion (50% higher than 2019) and R1.1 billion (12% higher than 2019), respectively.

Spending from UK visitors did, however, decrease by 27% to R3.2 billion, while visitors from the USA contributed R2.6 billion, a 28% increase from 2019.

De Lille cited the lifting of travel restrictions and affordability as significant drivers of positive results.

After two years of restrictions and confinement, travellers are eager to explore wide-open spaces, and South Africa offers these in abundance, the minister said.

The top source markets and travel trends, according to the department, included people visiting from the following countries in the first three months of this year:

  1. Zimbabwe
  2. Mozambique
  3. Lesotho
  4. Eswatini
  5. United Kingdom
  6. Germany
  7. USA
  8. Botswana
  9. Namibia
  10. Netherlands

De Lille said that another good sign of the tourism industry finding its feet again is the fact that compared to last year, tourists are spending 11% more time in the country.

“Visitors are spending more time exploring South Africa, with the average stay reaching 13 days in Q1 2023, surpassing the 11-day average in 2019.”

While Gauteng remains the main point of arrival, the Western Cape is still the tourism hotbed of South Africa.

Read: Another major inflation headache for South Africa

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