Cape Town - It's that time of year we've all been waiting for and Cape Town is once again tops for domestic and international arrivals.
Added to this, a massive surge in inbound visitors arriving to spend Christmas in South Africa can be expected, according to data from global flight and travel search platform, Cheapflights.
Despite a volatile year for the tourism industry and SA's economy as a whole, this festive season really does look set to be a bumper one.
"South Africa can expect a 100% increase in foreign tourists arriving on its shores compared to last year, as well as a huge amount of domestic travel within the country as locals go on holiday, or make their way home to see families," says Andrew Shelton, Managing Director of Cheapflights.
SEE: SA tourist arrivals rise 14.8% in first half of 2016
Considering that South Africa is already headed into this festive season on an upward curve in tourist arrivals, with the first part of 2016 seeing a 14.8% compared to the same period in 2015. The latest department of tourism figures for the period January-July 2016 show an estimated 5 791 504, which is an increase of 751 388 compared to the same period of the previous year.
All indicators show a record-breaking summer period in the making, with Cape Town International already expecting to surpass the 10-million passenger benchmark before the end of the air, buoyed by a number of direct routes to the city.
SEE: DHA announces plans to curb delays, streamline immigration at airports this festive season
"The usual coastal destinations, such as Cape Town and Durban, will be busy, with both locals and visitors. Despite the challenging economic conditions this year, our data shows that South Africans are keener than ever to travel, and overseas tourists are still flocking here, where the Rand still offers good bang for their buck,” says Shelton.
Cape Town can expect to be the busiest destination, with 43% of domestic travellers and 48% of foreign visitors searching for flights to the Mother City - more than double the amount of searches than any other local destination. This is closely followed by Johannesburg and Durban, as South Africans travel to the coast and to visit families back home in the City of Gold.
'47% increase in Britons headed to SA'
The country continues to be a destination of choice for the Brits, who make up the most searches for travel to South Africa over this time, increasing 47% compared to last year. Travellers from other European countries also love the Rainbow Nation, with the largest portion of the searches coming from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands and other countries experiencing chilly winters.
In the midst of a volatile Rand and GDP growth slowing down, tourism stands to benefit the most from a relatively weaker Rand this festive season, says Wiza Nyondo, Head of Tourism at FNB.
Nyondo says business hotels, guesthouses lodges, camps, restaurants and tour operators can all expect a busy festive season, with an increase from SA's main tourism feeder markets Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States as well as neighbouring countries - which have also experienced the 2016 financial pinch.
SEE: SA Insider Guide to the best summer events this December
Cheapflights data echoes the sentiment, with searches from travellers in Germany having grown by 187% when compared to last year and an impressive 226% from Swiss tourists, compared to the same period in 2015.
“We can also see from the searches on our site that South Africa can expect an influx of international visitors arriving just before Christmas, with the busiest inbound flights into the country being 22 and 23 December. This points to many from the Northern Hemisphere wanting to escape the cold for sunnier climes, as well as expats coming home to see their families,” says Shelton.
SEE: The Ultimate Survival Guide for airport travellers this festive season
South Africans are also travelling overseas in their droves, with London ranking third overall as most popular destination for travel over the Christmas season (after domestic destinations, Cape Town and Durban), according to the data.
“This points to many South Africans taking advantage of the slightly weaker Pound to travel to the UK, which is always one of most popular destinations. The second most popular destinations for South Africans is Bangkok – again which points to the popularity of countries which give value for money to the Rand,” says Shelton.
However Nyondo says, “More South Africans who would have otherwise travelled abroad, will most likely travel within the country due to the value of the Rand making it more expensive for them to travel overseas.”
SEE: POLL: Where South African travellers will be heading this Summer
A staycation holiday has proved popular for the upcoming holiday season according to a poll on News24, in which more than 31 000 people participated to share their upcoming plans for the summer holidays.
According to the figures, the majority of 42% of voters indicated that they'll be staying home for the holidays. A total of 33% said they won't be taking time off and will continue to work through the festive season.
'Best and worst times to travel'
This long weekend also signals the official start of the holidays for many South Africans - however based on the number of flights searched for, Cheapflights says there will be a second big surge just before Christmas, as travellers head home after the last working day before Christmas, Friday 23 December (with more than double the amount of flights searched for, compared to the previous day).
As can be expected, these days are the most expensive days to travel, with the few remaining flights available commanding premium prices.
“For those still wanting to book last minute travel within South Africa there are still a few deals to be found, especially on the days which are (relatively) quiet. Our data shows that the cheapest days to travel between now and the end of the year are 21 and 31 December, so if anyone is still wanting to book flights, those days are your best bet,” says Shelton.
SEE: Shameless Passengers on planes: The worst of 2016
To illustrate, the average one-way fare anywhere in South Africa on 21 December is currently R4 069, whereas flying to same destination on one of the busiest days, 23 December, will set travellers back R4 645.
Again, there are still some last minute travel deals to be found for travelling overseas this season - but those still wanting to book a trip overseas between now and the end of the year, the cheapest days to travel will be 28 and 29 December. "On these days, average international fares are around R15 700, whereas average international fares this weekend are around R18 200" - Click here to search flights.
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