SA foreign tourism arrivals continued to decline in early 2015

After growing strongly from 2011 to the middle of 2014, South Africa’s foreign tourist arrivals have fallen sharply. For example, in January 2015 (latest official data available), foreign tourist arrivals declined by 4.9% year-on-year. This compares with growth of 10% a year from 2011 to 2013. (See chart attached). This decline is reflected in a similar fall-off in tourism income.

The tourism data can be a little misleading. In total, South Africa attracted 1.297 million foreign visitors in January 2015, but only 877 712 stayed one night or longer. The rest (419 538) were day visitors, crossing the border to either work, shop or simply visit for the day. Unfortunately, while same-day tourism continues to increase (albeit modestly), ‘longer-duration’ tourism is in decline, falling by 7.6% year-on-year in January 2015.

A further important dimension to South Africa’s tourism industry is that a relatively small number (21%) of ‘longer-duration’ visitors are from outside the rest-of-Africa. This component of the tourism sector declined by 9.2% year-on-year in January. In contrast, visitors from Mozambique, Lesotho and Zimbabwe accounted for almost 60% of all ‘longer-duration’ tourism in South Africa during January 2015. However, this segment of the industry also declined by a concerning 8.3% year-on-year. It is also extremely concerning to see the fall-off in ‘longer-duration’ tourism from other African countries, in particular Nigeria (-26.4%y/y), and Kenya (-13.8%y/y).

From the above data it is clear that the recent decline in tourism arrivals is evident from across a wide range of countries (see chart attached), although the most concerning is probably China, which fell by 51.7% year-on-year in January 2015. Prior to the decline, China represented between 5% and 6% of all non-African tourism into South Africa and was growing rapidly. The United Kingdom (21.2% of total non-Africa) remains South Africa’s most important source of tourism source outside of Africa, followed by Germany (13.6%) and the USA (11.3%).

There appear to be a number of reason for the decline in foreign arrivals into South Africa. This includes fears around the recent Ebola outbreak (no Ebola cases were actually reported in South Africa) and the introduction of stricter visa requirements. The January 2015 data does not capture the impact of the most recent xenophobia attacks or the introduction of additional travel requirements for minors. Reports from the private sector companies suggests that inbound tourism has declined sharply in the first half of 2015, while the advance bookings for the next couple of months are also down substantially. This decline in tourism activity is a major concern given that up until recently it was one of South Africa’s best performing sectors, a major employer, and one of the industries identified by the NDP for further development and encouragement.

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