While Covid-19 dealt South African tourism a sucker punch with international travel obliterated overnight, we’re finally starting to see – while not quite a light – a glimmer of something at the end of the tunnel that points towards recovery, says Jacques van Embden, managing director at property development firm Blok.
He said that the city most anticipated to lead this charge is Cape Town.
“As a Mother City-based property developer, I admittedly have somewhat of a vested interest in our city’s bounce-back, but there are enough indicators to leave me feeling cautiously optimistic. Cape Town has an incredible value proposition, and getting people back won’t require too much convincing.
“The numbers serve as evidence. According to WESGRO’s research into Western Cape Tourism Recovery, visitors to the participating Western Cape attractions reached 343,727 in December 2020, a 35% recovery rate when compared to December 2019,” he said.
In terms of flights, passenger arrivals through Cape Town International Airport domestic terminal saw a 51% recovery rate in March 2021 compared to March 2019. Outdoor attractions such as Koggelberg Nature Reserve were top-rated, with many having already exceeded 2019 visitor numbers in the November 2020 – March 2021 period, van Embden said.
“Domestic tourism is on the up, which is encouraging but not surprising – people can no longer travel internationally, and so we’re now grabbing every possible opportunity to get away and see more of our beautiful country – and if there’s a bit of outdoor activity in the mix, then even better.”
Of particular interest is the changing working paradigm, which is set to catalyse a wave of what has been dubbed ‘semigration’. “The protagonist of this trend is the digital nomad, who is essentially an individual who can work remotely and travel or live wherever they choose, for as long as they choose,” said van Embden.
Covid has shown employers that people can work remotely and still get the job done. He said that many companies are moving towards a hybrid work model, which is anticipated to hang around long after the virus has subsided. “Employees are happy because they finally have the flexibility they’ve been craving for ages, and employers are happy because they no longer need to shell out for pricey office rentals.”
“Targeting digital nomads as part of our overall destination marketing strategy will become part of the City’s new international campaign when the time is right and when it is safe to do so,” said James Vos, mayoral committee member for Economic Opportunities and Asset Management.
The Western Cape provincial government has formally requested the introduction of a ‘remote working’ visa, which will allow international visitors to stay longer and work remotely while travelling in the country.
“Consider the cards in the city’s favour. Cape Town is already multi-cultural, meaning you can find talented staff across the language spectrum. The minimal time difference between South Africa and Europe promotes a healthy and flexible work environment, meaning people can successfully connect with their teams without working late at night or before dawn.
“For the swallows who chase the summer, we also offer an attractive climate that is counter to the northern hemisphere, making us an ideal destination for the gloomy winter months. And then, of course, there is the lifestyle that South Africa – and specifically Cape Town – offers, especially when buoyed by a salary earned in euros, pounds or dollars. The ease of living in the city makes plugging in so attractive, with the full range of living experiences available on our doorstep,” said van Embden.
For investors, particularly those buying in Cape Town, it means a desirable value proposition. “Anecdotal evidence mirrors this: in the first three months of 2021, mortgage originator BetterBond saw a 49% year on year increase in the number of people looking to buy properties in the Western Cape. I expect a full recovery in the short-stay letting market or the ‘AirBnB economy’ as it has been dubbed.
“We’re also seeing a more fluid model of property ownership favoured by the nomadic resident. Co-buying will be increasingly attractive, especially among younger buyers seeking a cost-effective timeshare-like arrangement with a friend or family member in another province or country,” said van Embden.
Those looking to buy want a good investment, but they still want flexibility. Buyers may choose to live in their home some of the time in-between travel, so they want a space that delivers on location, offering them a fantastic lifestyle, but that is also easy for them to lock up or let out as needed.
Personal space is less critical, said van Embden, but a functional work set-up is essential if you work from home more often than not.
Within Cape Town, the Atlantic Seaboard area is anticipated to shine once we enter a recovery period and deserves special mention.
Surprisingly – or perhaps not so surprisingly, when you consider what the seaside suburb offers – is that there is a 4.5x higher occupancy rate in the Atlantic Seaboard (versus Cape Town’s Central Business District (CBD), pointing to the desirability of the high-rise apartment living suburb, he said.
“Last but not least is the reemergence of community. After being apart, we want to come together, and a location that offers a sense of community and connectedness is key. With the promenade on its doorstep and easy access to lifestyle centres, eateries and fitness centres, the Atlantic Seaboard delivers on this.”