Alarming 10+m drop in domestic tourism over three years: Why and where to from here?

2017-03-29 13:48 - Louzel Lombard Steyn
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Cape Tow - While international tourism has boomed over the last couple of months, and especially during the Festive Season, the latest official statistics point to an alarming three-year overall decline in domestic travel in South Africa. 

This is according to the latest Domestic Tourism Survey, released by Stats SA which compares travel over the last three years between 2012 to 2015, for the period of January to December.

Overall, "the number of trips taken by South Africans travelling domestically is on the decline," Stats SA's findings conclude. Data indicates a decline of 10.1 million domestic tourists over the three years compared. 

The total number of day trips taken decreased from 54, 4 million in 2013 to 48 million in 2014 and decreased further to 44, 3 million in 2015. 

Overnight trips also declined from 50,8 million in 2013 to 47,3 million in 2014 and 45,4 million in 2015 - that's a decrease of 5.4m overall. 

Looking at most recent statistics for 2016, indications point to a possible decline in domestic tourism, despite the international influx of visitors hitting new records month-after-month. 

What does it mean? 

According to Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) CEO Mmatšatši Ramawela, the steady decline over the last three years, with a decrease in domestic leisure demand and business inputs, is a major concern for SA's tourism-dependent businesses.  

Ramawela, commenting on the the outcomes of the latest TBCSA Tourism Business Index, says their finding were drawn from a decline in local tourism accommodation performance specifically during the last quarter of 2016, which was remarkably lower than what they anticipated.

"Self-catering establishments, which are important suppliers to the domestic leisure market, experienced poor performance during the survey months. Furthermore, almost a quarter of accommodation respondents and more than a third of other tourism business performance cited insufficient domestic leisure demand as a negative performance during this period," Ramawela says. 

Overall decrease in expenditure to R61,9 billion experienced

Stats SA's figures reflect this concern in how travellers’ expenditure has decreased over the years. Although actual total expenditure on domestic overnight trips increased from R68,5 billion in 2013 to R71 billion in 2014, a different pattern was seen in 2015. An overall decrease in expenditure to R61,9 billion was experienced. 

The same pattern was experienced for day trips, where expenditure also increased from an estimated R35 billion in 2013 to R38,6 billion in 2014 but decreased to R24,9 billion in 2015.

Last year too, the overall annual performance of domestic tourism dipped further below to what it was in 2015, indicating a continuation of the soft decline since 2013.

READ MORE HERE: Tourism business index impacted as South Africans not travelling enough locally

According to the TBCSA, the "major reason for this decline in domestic travel is due to the economic challenges we are facing as a country.

"Economic growth levels are low, levels of unemployment are high and many households are struggling to make it through the month. In such an environment, domestic travel is often seen as a “luxury” purchase and fall off the household budget. The other reason is that, historically, South Africa does not does not have a strong domestic tourism culture," the TBCSA says. 

Moving forward 

South African Tourism, along with organisations like the Tourism Business Council of South African and the National Department of Tourism are actively working to make domestic tourism more accessible to all, as was the local tourism drive for the year 2016.

And, despite the weak domestic tourism culture the TBCSA refers to, various initiatives - like offering discounts to SA passport holders and opening up National Parks for free on select days for South Africans - are been implemented.

But, as the DA minister of tourism James Vos points out, there is still so much SA Tourism and the National Department of Tourism (NDT) can do to make travelling more accessible.  

Vos points out that the NDT "must look into the numerous poorly developed and maintained government-funded tourist sites. More should be done to make government-owned resorts, parks, nature reserves and the like affordable to our citizens.

"Many resorts in small towns have become dysfunctional" and have become a huge liability for their respective municipalities, Vos says. "It is simply wrong to have these state resources stand vacant and underutilised while there is a demand in certain market segments of our country." 

According to SA minister of tourism Derek Hanekom, speaking to Traveller24 on the topic during last year's national tourism month, it is not the NDT's responsibility entirely to make municipal facilities functional and affordable, but they are willing to assist in getting the facilities up to standard.

Watch below: Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom unpacks declining state of municipal facilities 

Despite the challenges, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

During his budget speech in February this year, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan also pledged more support for tourism-related services, confirming an additional R494 million has been allocated for tourism promotion.

SEE: Budget 2017: Growth and transformation key as tourism gets R494m budget boost 

The TBCSA also says they remain positive that the situation will improve in the year ahead. "In terms of the economy, a moderate GDP growth recovery is expected this year and the recent inflation figures released by Stats SA last week point to the possibility of an interest rate cut before the end of the year according to some economists. We hope this will translate into money in consumer’s pockets for travel," the TBCSA tells Traveller24. 

International upswing 

While domestic tourism appears to be slowing down, international tourism has experienced a boom over the last year, especially. 1.1 million more international tourists visited South Africa last year, with a total of 10 million international tourists migrating through SA's ports of entry. 

This 13% growth in international tourist arrivals in the country for 2016 followed a concerning dip in the industry in 2015, when tourism dropped 6.8% mainly due to the stringent visa regulations for minor travellers which was imposed in that year. 

The recovery in 2016 was remarkable, even surpassing the global average growth rate for tourism in 2016.  It is estimated that about 1.2 billion international tourists travelled the world in 2016, representing growth of 3.9% on 2015.

READ MORE HERE: SA sees +10m International visitors as 2016 tourism growth hits 13%

NOTE: The Domestic Tourism Survey collects information to understand the travel behaviour of people in South Africa to determine the contribution of tourism to the economy.  Data is collected on day trips, referring to a trip outside of the usual environment where one leaves and returns within the same day and overnight trips, referring to a trip outside of the usual environment, where your one night or more is spent away from the usual environment. 

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