SA’s drop in tourists carries a hefty R5-billion price tag, 'the time for action is now'

2020-02-12 08:46 - Selene Brophy
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South Africa's positioning as a tourism destination is "unfocused" - but the time for more than just catchy taglines is now, according to industry experts. 

As the country awaits the State of The Nations Address (SONA) on Thursday, 13 February 2020, it is expected that tourism receives a better road map to outline concrete plans to expand the sector that has so much economic potential.

Lee-Anne Bac, Director Tourism Specialist Unit at professional services firm, BDO South Africa believes the tourism industry needs due attention as the President sets the agenda on Thursday.

615 000 people chose another destination 

"In reality, tourism in South Africa is experiencing slippage at a point in time when developing countries are showing growth and progress in this sector. In comparison, the latest Stats SA tourism and migration figures reflect a 2,3% decline up to November 2019. South Africa lost 615 000 overseas and African tourists last year alone. Of these, 215 000 tourist losses were due to the year-to-date decline.

"If SA’s growth had traced the conservative average growth achieved by African countries in 2019, we should have attracted an additional 400 000 tourists. The figure would have been even higher still if we had achieved our intended goal of 6% growth as set out in SONA 2019. The fact is that  615 000 people chose another destination over a visit to South Africa," says Bac.

READ: Local tourism 'more accessible' but why are fewer international tourists coming to SA?

She estimated this loss of tourists carries a "direct spend of over R5 billion to our economy, putting much needed South African jobs in jeopardy". 

"This should be all the evidence we need to make sure that we work hard to reclaim our status," says Bac.

But with the ongoing challenges of safety and security, the new curve ball of the coronavirus putting the world’s largest travelling market under quarantine and of cause SA’s energy and climate change issues, there are many stumbling blocks for the country as a tourism destination.  

Of late, South African Tourism has been described as being unfocused and having “lost its mojo”. 

In a recent Skift report Colin Nagy, head of strategy at FFNY, a global advertising agency, says “Several factors are at play, but given the diversity of experiences that can be had in this country of 58 million people, what’s needed is a new and sharper narrative.”

“Right now the marketing communications seem unfocused, underselling what is a remarkable place and a natural portal to Africa. How are we bringing the broad diversity of experiences forward?” states Nagy.

South African Tourism CEO, Sisa Ntshona who is back in the driving seat after a year off due a labour dispute says Nagy’s comments are “ fair criticism”.

“We’ve lost our way,” states Ntshona, “We’ve realised that after three or four years our efforts have not been as effective as it needs to be.

“South Africa is looking to refresh its brand."

Ntshona highlights that as SA's destination marketer, it will be launching a new campaign, focusing beyond SA’s golden triangle of attractions and looking to leverage the travel and tourism offering to second-time visitors.

"We want to reveal more of South Africa's secondary cities and have a better geographic spread across the country. We are actually looking to leverage the Northern Cape as an example.

SEE: MAPPED: A visual guide to the Namaqua Coastal Route of the Northern Cape

"With tourist attractions of the Kimberley hole and the SKA project. We need to be putting these cities at the forefront - and we will be doing that quite significantly going forward."Ntshona is confident the eased visa restrictions, especially for travelling families, as well as SA's e-visa programmes will have a better impact going forward.  

"A combination of all of these will start to show a turnaround plan for visitors to SA," he says."70% of our arrivals still come from the continent - Africa remains a significant source market for us. We need to continue to look at the ease of travel and how to better network the continent, promoting air travel of the continent."

"We have a remarkable campaign set to come out in April this year,” says Ntshona who is excited about SA Tourism’s newly appointment Chief Marketing Officer Themba Khumalo and its new marketing agency. 

But what can be expected from the campaign?

"We have never had a separate tourism brand, when compared to the likes of Incredible India or Simply Asia, we're included in the nation brand with Inspiring New Ways, which is generic and could apply to mining and the likes. It’s time to carve our own niche as South African Tourism brand, so we can take our destination global," he says.

Safety remains key

Bac says if she had to pick one thing to unpack and focus on first it would be the issue Safety and Security.

“We should be seeing ministries come together in the days after SONA: the police, home affairs, labour, public enterprises, economic development, environment, health, education, communications, tourism and others need to put their heads together and make this happen.

"Everything they put their minds to must be for the benefit of the country as a whole, and included in this should be one more question: how do we support the growth of both foreign and domestic tourism?

“You are not going to visit a country if you don’t feel safe. We need to work together from corner citizens, private security to government – looking after tourism is everybody's job."   

'Big initiatives make a real difference'

So what's the best roadmap to make tourism more economically viable?  

"There is a lot riding on the amount of investment and the depth of resolve required by South Africa to significantly impact the value chain in a way that will positively change the narrative," says Bac.

"While we have issues of safety and security, infrastructure, and the challenges of Eskom and SAA, there is a lot going for South Africa. 

READ: Federer edges Nadal as Match in Africa sets new world record

A good example that kept coming up was the more than 51 945 spectators at the Federer vs Nadal charity match in Cape Town this past weekend, as SA set a new world record for the largest attendance at a tennis match, with calls from Federer himself for an SA Open to be revisited. 

"Without question this was an experience that created incredible images for those who were there, even more importantly; it’s the kind of event that makes South Africans proud as a nation, we need more of this to turbo-boost our reputation as a destination," states Bac.

Added to this Ntshona says SA Tourism is sharply focused on hosting more top events. 

“We’re really looking at our calendar as a country. We’ve lost our edge to host global events. These events can be a catalyst to get people to come to the country and see more of it. Sport tourism is part of the strategy, it’s time to make a bid to make for those global tournaments so we can start hosting them in our country.”   

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