Cape Town - In a depressed economy travel has not been the priority for many locals, yet members of the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) state they are still seeing a healthy appetite for international travel.
Domestic travel indicators released this week highlight that South Africans are not travelling locally as much as they used to before.
StatsSA figures show that the total number of day trips undertaken dropped from 44.3 million in 2015 to 39.4 million in 2016. Overnight trips declined from 45.4 million in 2015 to 43 million in 2016. And while the total spend on day trips fell from R25bn in 2015 to R23bn, overnight trips spend increased from R62bn in 2015 to R63bn in 2016.
This was largely driven by "increased spending in the higher living standard grouping, as individuals from lower living standard groups were feeling the pinch", according to statistician general Pali Lehohla in a Fin24 update.
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Unemployment and poverty in the past few years has had an impact on travel in the country, with unemployment climbing by some 29% over the last decade. Unemployment climbed from 4.4 million in 2008 to 6.2 million in 2017; if discouraged work seekers are taken into account, this figure is over 9 million. In addition, about 13.8 million South Africans were living below the food poverty line in in 2015.
Yet despite this stark picture, ASATA data shows that South Africans are opting to plan and book the dream style vacation over and above a Shot Left as it tends to "offer better value for money", with a seven-night package to Zanzibar and Thailand can often be cheaper than a similar week-long jaunt in their own backyard.
'Developing an inherent travel culture'
While travelling domestically is seen as expensive by many South Africans, one of the key challenges is that South Africans do not have an “inherent travel culture”. This is according to South African Tourism, who has been nit-picking the issue of domestic pricing for some time - looking at solutions around dynamic pricing which speaks to the "ebb and flow of demand and tends to address seasonality", according to SA Tourism CEO, Sisa Ntshona.
Dynamic pricing is practiced across the board says Ntshona, citing the models of Uber, Gautrain and Airbnb as the models to replicate. Ntshona says that through the grading council, establishments can have access to dynamic pricing, which on their own would have cost too much to implement, but in being part of the grading council they would have access to this technology and be part of the dynamic pricing eco-system."
'Prepared to pay more when presented with an option that gives them better value'
However those locals who are able to travel are tightening their belts in some respects, showing a trend for all-inclusive bookings and choosing to shop around for the best international travel deals instead, with destinations that are visa free seemingly the hot favourite as the peak December holiday period looms.
“Clients are certainly looking for more bang for their buck, but still have a great appetite for travel,” says Vtravel’s Vanessa Frankal. “We find South African travellers are prepared to pay more when presented with an option that gives them better value.”
“There’s definitely an appetite for travel among South Africans, but we’ve seen a change in the type of holiday that clients are choosing. Three- and four-star hotel requests are on the rise, all-inclusive is trending and added value is expected,” says Flora Fubbs, Senior Manager Marketing at The Holiday Factory.
'Comparing the cost of local travel to regional and international travel destinations'
Increasingly South Africans are comparing the cost of local travel to regional and international travel destinations says ASATA. They're choosing destinations that offer competitive pricing and value for money, explains Luana Visagie, Marketing Manager Club Travel.
Thompsons Holidays agrees local travel has declined because when it is compared to seven-night packages to Zanzibar and Thailand, it is often more expensive.
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“The Indian Ocean Islands are booming, as is the Far East where the most popular destinations remain Thailand and Bali. The current trend seems to be shorter trips, but more frequently,” explains Thompson’s spokesperson John Ridler.
Popular destinations for South Africans, in addition to Thailand and Bali, include Greece, India, the USA and Disney World, adds Annemarie Lexow, Travel Vision Sales and Marketing Manager. “The average length of these tailor-made packages is about seven days at the moment.”
Lesser-explored Portugal and Spain on the radar
Portugal and Spain have also been on the radar for South Africans, explains Theresa Szejwallo, Managing Director Trafalgar South Africa. “These destinations offer South Africans great value and the depth of experiences on offer make them extremely popular among our guided holiday destinations. We’ve also seen that Christmas Markets in Europe are a popular choice for December holidays.
“There are some very good specials out in the market to encourage South Africans to travel globally, from early bird to book now, pay later deals, and even rand guarantees so that South Africans are not penalised when the rand exchange rate dips," says Szejwallo.
Also important for South Africans, is knowing as much as possible in advance what they’re going to be paying for their holiday, which is why resort, cruise and guided holidays remain popular this season, according to ASATA.
'Important to know upfront what your holiday is going to cost'
“Many cruise lines offer all-inclusive sailings, the option to buy drinks and WiFi packages or special discount packages with drinks included so you know upfront what your holiday is going to cost you. It’s important to understand what these inclusions are up front so that you don’t end up paying extra when you’re on the ship,” explains Jane Davidson, Director Development Promotions.
As travellers gear up to plan and book their December holidays, ASATA CEO Otto de Vries warns against booking something that sounds too good to be true. “We find this time of year that fraudsters tend to target unsuspecting travellers with incredible holiday deals that are simply not viable. Once you’ve booked your holiday, you’ll have no recourse, and in most cases no holiday.
“If you’re looking to book your holiday, first and foremost ensure that you are dealing with a bona fide company and secondly, check on the ASATA website if they are an ASATA member so that you can travel with peace of mind this December.”
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