SA falls short on tourism growth potential

Jun 17, 2014

South Africa’s tourism industry has grown significantly over the past 20 years, with visitor growth outstripping the global average. However, not enough is being done to market the country internationally.

These are some of the findings based on data since 1994, which has been analysed by Grant Thornton and form part of the 20 Years of Tourism report

During the last two decades, SA has seen an average visitor growth rate of 6.9% per year, which compares with a global average annual growth rate of 4%.

“We’ve done exceptionally well in a number of areas and since democracy we’ve really opened up as an international tourist destination in a big way,” says Gillian Saunders, Head of Advisory Services at Grant Thornton Johannesburg and Global Leader: Hospitality and Tourism for Grant Thornton International.

“The advent of democracy and the societal changes that came with it brought a wave of positive sentiment and international exposure that led to interest in the country,” said Saunders.

Growth in the tourism sector over the last two decades includes hotels more than doubling from 726 in 1994 to more than 1 500; casinos growing from 17 often small semi-rural establishments to 38 large mega-complexes; the total car-hire fleet increasing from 25 000 to 65 000; and luxury coaches from 340 to 720. The number of international airlines flying to South Africa also grew from 21 to 76 during the period.

However, Saunders suggested the country could have achieved more. “If we had to score ourselves, we’ve definitely passed but I wouldn’t quite say that we’ve achieved an ‘A’.” According to her, more focus is needed in key areas, including addressing the country’s crime situation and improving empowerment in the sector to ensure the success in the next 20 years.

“While the Department of Tourism and South African Tourism have improved in leaps and bounds, still not enough is being done to market the country internationally. In my view there needs to be a much bigger budget allocation to destination marketing in a bid to attract more visitors to our shores. We are still well below international destination marketing spend levels,” said Saunders.

According to Saunders, the budget allocations announced for tourism, by the former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in February were disappointing.  The allocation for South African Tourism for the 2014-15 year was increased by 2.6%, an amount that is almost half that of the country’s current inflation rate. “We say all the right things about tourism as a priority but we don’t put our money where our mouth is,” says Saunders.

She added that the ongoing negative safety and security perceptions of SA did, and continued to, constrain growth in international tourism to the country.  “If we could address this reality, as well as work on the message that tourists can experience our country safely, we could see further strong growth in tourism and South Africa could find itself among the leading tourism destinations.”

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