Interesting stats on SA tourism: iLIVE
Colin Bell wrote to Tourism Update highlighting some interesting statistics he uncovered when investigating the tourism arrivals figures...
Overall tourist arrivals to South Africa grew by 10, 5% in the first quarter of this year, with strong growth recorded across all regions, said South Africa's Minister of Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk. The Minister said it was a most encouraging sign that tourist arrivals growth had come from all regions. "These are wonderful results for the destination, the country, the tourism industry and the economy."Emerging markets continued their robust, positive growth of 2011, while traditional markets recovered the lost ground of the period 2008-2011 and bounced back to reach positive growth in the early part of the year," he continued.
The usual self-congratulatory analysis from the Minister of Tourism refers (Southern African Tourism Update 17 July 2012). However when we start to examine the tourism arrival statistics a little more closely, the picture appears a lot less rosy that the Minister would have us believe.
To get a clearer picture of what is happening in South Africa on the tourism arrivals front, one only needs to compare the first four of months of tourist arrivals in 2012 from five of our key markets with those for the same period in 2003 as well as 2008. The disturbing trend that emerges from this comparison tells quite a different story to those trumpeted by our Minister and by SA Tourism, yet mirrors the negative sentiments the tourism industry is feeling. This is how the numbers stack up:
Jan - April 2003 vs Jan - April 2012
UK: down 8,7%
US: up 75,3%
Germany: up 2,2%
France: down 9,9%
Holland: up 7,4%
Jan - April 2008 vs Jan - April 2012
UK: down 13%
US: up 11,7%
Germany: down 2,5%
France: down 13%
Holland: down 10%
Why have I chosen the look at the above source markets? Well simply, they account for the bulk of our long haul traditional markets - a staggering 439 769 in the first four months of 2012. UK, Germany, Holland and France make up 69% of all European arrivals and if you add in the US - 71% of all arrivals from Europe and North America. The key point is that even in the "good" years (2003 - 2007) we performed poorly compared to our competitors, when the Minister and his team were telling us the opposite. UK, our largest market has declined by 8,7% since 2003! This is hardly surprising since we have had inexperienced and ineffectual people heading up SAT's UK office for many years.
Since the onset of the recession things have not gotten any better and despite rose coloured spectacle view, our core main markets are not performing. If we now factor in the average length of stay in SA into this equation, it appears that overseas long-haul tourists are spending less time in the country than they used to due to the tougher economic conditions. This has declined from 10 days in 2003 to 8,3 in 2011. Moreover the number of provinces visited has declined from 1,49 to 1,2 over the same period. If that is the case, not only do we have fewer tourists travelling to SA from some of our biggest markets as compared to 2008 - but they are also spending fewer nights in the country and tending to stick to the well-trodden Cape - Garden Route - Kruger path.
The combined effect of both these declines results in a dramatic drop off of the total number of nights that overseas long-haul tourists spend in SA - and is the reason why many companies are not being able to run profitable businesses and why the vast majority of the lodges (excluding a small number of our premier brands) in the rural areas are unsustainable. The one anomaly in these numbers is that the US market has increased by 75% from 2003 - 2011! This begs the simple question, what has SA Tourism done differently in the USA that it has not done elsewhere? A far more cogent explanation is that many of these are not US tourists who are travelling primarily to SA - but are US tourists travelling to our neighbours and to East Africa using the direct flights from the US to SA as their gateway into Africa. These tourists are being counted twice - once on arrival into SA and again when they enter the country to travel back to the US. This double counting further compounds the errors in our statistics.
These statistics and trends in my view, tell part of the story as to why many tourism companies in South Africa (especially in the rural areas) are taking strain and why enormous numbers of people have been or are about to be retrenched.
Some may argue that it is not fair to compare today's tourism arrivals to those of 2008. However in the opening quote the Minister is doing just that and telling us all is well. Many of our competitor countries in Africa and further afield have had their tourism arrival numbers bounce back and even exceed those of 2008. If they bounce back, why can't we? There is one simple answer - SAT is not spending our massive tourism marketing and PR budget effectively and in the right markets. Until we acknowledge our mistakes; change the way we collect our statistics and the manner in which we market the country, our tourism industry will struggle to deliver the jobs and its upliftment potential.
I would like to end off by asking the Minister "What is so wonderful about these 2012 results?" and ask SAT "What changes are you making to effectively market SA to ensure that we attract more long-haul leisure tourists that will spend money throughout all our provinces, throughout the year as per your mandate?" With close on a billion Rand of taxpayer and stakeholders money, the tourism industry and those poorest people in our country demand that SAT and the Minister stop fooling South Africans and start to perform effectively.
And one more request - please stop counting 100 Lesotho people who travel to SA a hundred times a year as 10 000 tourists!
- Tourism Update is looking for further authoritative comment on the statistics issue, so please add your views below or email us at email@example.com. Check out www.tourismupdate.co.za for more