There were 1.2 billion international arrivals in 2016 – but less than five percent of those came to Africa, and one percent to South Africa.
“Those figures can either scare you, or excite you,” says head of South African Tourism, Sisa Ntshona. “Scare you in that you think, that’s so bad, or excite you in that there are so many opportunities. To a large extent, we’re still undiscovered.”
Ntshona was one of the speakers on the opening day of the Tourism Hotel Investment and Networking Conference, THINC Africa, hosted by global hotel investment consultancy, HVS, in Cape Town.
“The African saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. We could say it takes the tourism industry to raise the economy,” said Tim Smith, managing partner of HVS in South Africa. “Seriously, though, the opportunity offered by South African to domestic and international tourists is extraordinary. We just need to work together as an industry, with government’s assistance, to realise the opportunity for all.”
Earlier, John Loos, FNB’s property economist, told delegates South Africa had two things going for it: the weak rand and a slow-moving Reserve Bank. “I’ve given up trying to predict what the rand will do next, but realistically, we can expect a weak rand for some time to come,” he said. “I wish more people would take advantage of it. It’s going to be there for a while, so we might as well use it.”
Loos said in tough times, people look for quality, quality places to live, and quality places to visit.
That would be good news for Ntshona, tasked with growing South Africa’s tourism economy. “South Africa’s National Development Plan reckons tourism is a sector that can help take us out of this rut,” he says. “South Africa is in a technical recession with high unemployment, particularly among youth. While the world battles with inclusive growth for minorities, South Africa is different; we’re trying to make the economy inclusive to the majority.”
Ntshona says while South Africa is looking for growth, it is looking for distributive growth that is inclusive of the majority of its citizens so as to reduce the Gini coefficient, which is one of the highest in the world. “The more tourism grows, the more people will become economically active,” he says.
To do so requires growing international and domestic tourism, says Ntshona, pointing out that when South Africa suffered a decline in tourism in 2014/2015, and international bookings were cancelled after the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, domestic tourism failed to step into the breach. “Most strong tourism economies are built off the back of domestic tourism, but not here.”
Ntshona believes South Africa’s troubled past has a lot to do with that. “Hardly 30 years ago the majority needed visas to travel between cities,” he says. “Mobility is not ingrained in us. There’s a lack of confidence. We need to inculcate in South Africans the need to explore their own country.”
SA Tourism has developed a ‘five in five’ strategy. It wants to grow tourism numbers by five million in five years; four million would be international travellers, and one million domestic.
Various strategies are in place to do so, from starting to work with South African Development Community (SADC) neighbours to package experiences in neighbouring countries (such as visiting Victoria Falls, moving to Mozambique’s beaches before coming to South Africa) to encouraging everything from health and medical tourism to sport tourism and of course, business tourism.
Seasonal tourism isn’t good enough if tourism is to help grow the economy. People need jobs all year around, he says. Issues that have to be addressed are capacity, geographic spread, seasonality, domestic tourism, intra-Africa tourism and niche tourism.
“We don’t want to market ourselves as a cheap destination. We have a unique offering, so we’re offering value for money,” he says. “And,” he adds, “we’re not going to paint ourselves into a corner either. We’re not just beach, berg and bush.”
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