Cape Town - Despite the increase in security breaches and terror attacks across Europe over the past two years, Europe and Eurasia have once again been rated the region with the strongest overall travel and tourism competitiveness performance, with six economies in the top 10.
South Africa is ranked top in southern Africa in the 53rd overall spot, followed by Mauritius, Kenya and Namibia, ranking, 55th, 80th and 82nd place respectively.
This is according to the latest Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI), which forms part of the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and benchmarks the travel and tourism competitiveness of 136 economies.
Where SA fits
According to the report, South Africa still leads the regional ranking, taking the 53rd place globally, though the country slipped 5 places since 2015.
To claim the top sub-Saharan spot, SA continues to rely on cultural resources, for which we score highest, along with strong natural resources and a conducive business environment characterised by minimal red tape and modest administrative burden.
Although the labour market remains inefficient, the TTCI finds, there has been some progress in this area. SA has also improved price competitiveness by reducing tickets charges, taxes and hotel prices.
Despite these improvements, however, South Africa’s tourism competitiveness suffers mainly because of two elements - safety and security - for which we rank 120th out of 136 - and environmental sustainability - for which we rank 117th.
Interestingly, the report marks "fears of terrorism and an increased sense of insecurity related to crime" as a factor that make tourists less light-hearted about travelling in the country.
Commenting on SA's booming increase in international tourists for 2016, SA's Department of Home Affairs noted that South Africa has started to become a safe haven for tourists from abroad, considering the terrorism and turmoil experienced in Europe over the past two years in particular - the Bastille day killing and November 2015 Paris attacks, as well as Brussels Airport bombing being some of the most hard-hitting.
SEE: Festive Season stats rise: SA a safe haven in the global travel sphere
Another aspect that has contributed to a lower performance for South Africa this year, the report says, "is the reduced efforts made by the government to support the sector".
Going forward, the R494m budget boost allocated to tourism in 2017 might change this sentiment, pushing SA's 13% growth in tourist arrivals for 2016 up even further and gaining the country rank on international rankings such as the TTCI.
SEE: Budget 2017: Growth and transformation key as tourism gets R494m budget boost
Looking forward, the TTCI report also notes that SA's plans to implement more open visa policies and service trade agreements could foster its tourism sector.
Spain has once again been crowned as the most competitive travel and tourism destination, according to the index. It also took the top spot in the previous index.
The 2017 top 10 most competitive countries are -
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Japan (gained five places)
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The US (dropped two places)
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Canada (gained one place)
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Switzerland (dropped four places)
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Increase in European terrorism not reflected
France remains the 2nd ranked destination on the TTCI, with the report stating that "remarkably, despite recent terrorist attacks and increased fear of terrorism, tourism performance of countries such as France, Germany and Belgium have not declined significantly, confirming a strong resilience of the travel and tourism sector to security shocks, in presence of strong institutions and sound travel and tourism fundamentals."
Balancing out the scales for top-ranking destinations like France, Germany and the UK are the efficient utilisation of cultural resources, as well as the efficiency of ground transportation and air connectivity, which continue to drive travel and tourism competitiveness, the report says.
Tourism reports from the past two years for the country, however, shows that tourism authorities are fighting to woo back tourists to France's most loved tourism destinations - particularly Paris.
SEE: One year on: After bloodbath, Paris fights to woo back tourists
But, the TTCI says, "Declines in security and in the usage of natural resources (to 13th, down 5 places) have been more than compensated by a significant reduction in the prices of hotels and ticket taxes, which have led to an improvement in France’s travel and tourism price competitiveness by 21 places."
In comparison, South Africa lacks the fundamentals of travel and tourism which the European countries have mastered. With 33 homicides per 100 000 people, South Africa has one of the worst homicide rates in the index, ranking 131st. And with respect to environmental sustainability, deforestation and loss of habitat have proceeded at a rapid rate since 2000.
SA's lack and inconsistency in providing suitable travel and tourism infrastructure remains massive hurdles in growing competitiveness.
"The global interest and demand for South Africa’s natural resources is increasing," the TTCI says, "but insufficient habitat preservation could prevent the country from benefitting from this growing source of tourist attraction."
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