South Africa’s tourism sector is clawing back its losses over the past two years, with the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) reporting that the sector’s December 2021 trading had reached 64% of December 2019 levels.
“We’re off to an optimistic start in 2022,” says Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO TBCSA. “Our domestic tourists were the driving force behind our tourism and hospitality businesses over December, but we are equally grateful to those inbound international visitors who were undeterred by Omicron media reports and travel restrictions and chose to travel anyway.”
South Africa’s travel and tourism sector seemed to be on the road to recovery towards the end of last year, until the discovery of the Omicron variant set it back substantially, the results of which are expected to be felt until March.
Despite this, the TBCSA is encouraged at the pace with which tourism business is improving. “This is a testament not only to the resilience of the industry which has largely borne the brunt of changing travel regulations globally, but indeed travel in general, as pent-up demand from our source markets means travellers are choosing to plan, book and travel within very short lead times,” says Tshivhengwa.
South Africa has a small window of opportunity to position itself as a favourable destination as other long-haul competitor destinations remain closed, he says. “Our focus must be on delivering ease of travel for our inbound international visitors and returning South Africans and this includes the removal of the requirement for PCR tests for fully vaccinated passengers travelling to or visiting South Africa. It is an impediment to travel because it is expensive and, in some cases, difficult for our travellers to obtain.”
Combined with ease of travel is the urgent requirement for South Africa and the destination’s value proposition to be marketed robustly in key source markets. “To that end, we are pleased to see the Global Advocacy campaign being rolled out by South African Tourism and partners which is aimed at highlighting the attractiveness and brand appeal of South Africa as a safe, affordable and welcoming tourism destination.”
The TBCSA is encouraged by the further lifting of COVID-19 restrictions including social distancing and contact tracing which it says have hampered the industry’s ability to get back to business. “While we await the full details of the changes, it is our fervent hope that the same premise influencing the lifting of social distancing and contact tracing for other parts of the economy will be applied to tourism and hospitality,” Tshivhengwa says.
While the industry walks its long road to recovery, Tshivhengwa urges business and government to reinstate their corporate travel programmes. “South Africa’s travel sector relies largely on corporate and government travel for its very survival. With the continued lifting of COVID restrictions and the industry’s solid commitment to duty of care, we believe 2022 is the year to get back to business travel. We urge our business and government partners to get back on the road so that South Africa’s economy gets the much-needed boost it needs,” Tshivhengwa concludes.