Economy and culture are big factors in SA’s travel dip

2017-02-17 16:00

South Africans are going on fewer holidays than they were a year ago – even visits to distant friends and family who put people up for free are getting fewer.

Altogether, 12.5% or 3.5 million fewer domestic trips were undertaken in the 2015-2016 financial year when compared to the previous year, according to South African Tourism’s latest annual report.

Sisa Ntshona, executive head of SA Tourism, ascribes the decline to a weakening economy. In addition, he said, South Africans do not have a culture of going on vacation. Ntshona presented the report to the parliamentary portfolio committee on trade and international relations.

When South Africans travel, it’s usually to visit friends and family, said Ntshona. It’s in this category where there is a big decline – 15.8% less in the 2015-2016 annual year when compared with the previous year.

Trips to friends and families comprise about 70% of all domestic trips. About 10% are vacations and another 10% are business trips.

The rest are composed mainly of the trips for medical or religious reasons. A small percentage of people also travel for sport or to buy groceries.

Normal holidays declined by 2.7% from about 2 776 000 in 2014-2015 to 2 700 000 in 2015-2016.

Ntshona said that one of SA Tourism’s most important objectives for the coming year was to encourage South Africans to go on holiday more, because money was not the only stumbling block.

A survey among people who do not travel locally, shows that a shortage of money is only the reason for 41% of them. But more people say that they didn’t have any reason to travel, that they didn’t have time to travel or that they just didn’t like it.

“We want to convert those people. We want to give them a reason to travel.

“We are working with the provinces to help them better market their two or three biggest events, events such as the Durban July, both locally and internationally.”

Although people are going on holiday less, they are saying longer, said Ntshona.

In the past year, they’ve stayed, on average, 4.2 days, compared with four days the previous year. Those who visit friends and family stay 4.4 days (compared with 4.1 the previous year) and those who go on holiday stay 5.4 days (4.2 days in the past).

That’s something SA Tourism wants to build on, said Ntshona. “But we are going to have to offer them more than the mountain, the bush and the sea.”

Gradings for hotels, guest houses and other accommodation will also need attention, said Ntshona.

“It seems as if certain places join the Tourism Grading Council, get graded and put up their sign with three or four stars. When they cancel their membership they do not remove the sign.”

Some owners of guest houses and other accommodation feel they would rather rely on the free reviews they get on websites like TripAdvisor and Airbnb rather than the grading council’s stars.

“Costs are an issue; sometimes people have to decide if they want to buy a new bed or curtains or if they are going to pay membership fees to the grading council.”

There was a decline in the number of institutions that are registered with the grading council. In 2015, a total of 5369 places were registered, as opposed to 5 230 in 2016.

It’s also 19.5% less than the target of 6493.

Almost 20%, or 2 million, fewer foreign tourists visited South Africa than last year. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the visa fiasco were the two biggest causes of this.

The drop was especially apparent in visitor numbers from Central and South America, which saw a decline of 22.7%) and from Australia (10% fewer). The number of expected tourists was 10 977 407, against the 8 903 773 who eventually visited the country.

Foreign tourists spent R68.1 billion, compared with the expected R83.1 billion.

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March 18 2018