Johannesburg - With the weaker rand – which took another tumble over the past few days – business should be looking good for Mpumalanga tourism operators. But it isn’t.
Since last year, tourism operators in a province known for its vast attractions say they have lost between 15% and 50% of their overseas clients.
Matthew Louw, a branch manager for Hylton Ross – which offers safari tours in the Kruger National Park – says tourists have been cancelling their trips because of the new visa regulations. Visas now require unabridged birth certificates for children under the age of 18, in addition to passports.
“We should be making a lot of money, but we’re battling. There have been cancellations due to the visa regulations, Ebola, xenophobia and, to some extent, the attacks in east Africa,” he says.
“The other day, I had a very happy couple from England and they spent £3 500 (R71 000) here.
“Perhaps things will improve in the busy season from September, but it doesn’t look rosy at the moment.”
The rand depreciated to an all-time low of 14 to the US dollar at the beginning of the week, as markets plunged around the world over concerns about China’s economic health. The local currency did improve slightly on Friday morning to R13.14.
Another tour operator, Tanya Ruf of Oliver’s Restaurant and Lodge in White River, agreed with Louw about the constraints brought about by the new visa regulations.
“The weaker rand won’t help and tourists prefer to go to other countries in Africa where regulations are less stringent. I would estimate we’ve had a 10% decline in our tourist numbers. There have been people we have booked who have cancelled,” Ruf said.
“The weaker rand is definitely in our interest, but tourists are losing interest in us.”
Ruf says 65% of their tourists are foreign.
Mpumalanga is a favourite for overseas tourists because of the Kruger Park, which boasts the Big Five as well as exclusive private lodges.
According to the latest Tourism Satellite Account for SA report, tourism direct GDP was R103.6bn in 2013, compared with R93.5bn in 2012.
The Tourism Business Council of SA estimates that the country will lose in the following ways: 100 000 tourists will stay away in 2015 because of the visa regulations and the R1.4bn total net loss will result in 9 300 jobs being lost.