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 Tourism sparkles amongst SA's economic gloom

 

 Through the storm clouds of a distressed economy, the South African tourism industry stands out as a ray of sunshine. And, with travel and tourism expected to contribute 9.4% to the GDP of South Africa in 2017 – according to the PwC’s Hospitality outlook: 2017-2021 – small business owners operating in the sector need to be taking heed of the sector’s gaps and opportunities if this goal is to be realised, and exceeded in years to come.

This is according to Anton Roelofse, regional general manager at Business Partners Limited, speaking in light of National Tourism Month. He points to the latest Tourism and Migration report from Statistics SA, which reveals that the number of overseas visiting South Africa was up 12,4% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2017.

Roelofse believes that the continued increase in overseas tourism remains largely driven by the favourable exchange rates that keep the country’s tourism experience affordable, but adds that South Africa is also increasingly becoming a desirable destination for Millennials who are now starting to strap on their backpacks to see the world. 

“Apart from Millennials, an increasing number of tourists are seeking out experience and adventure, rather than sightseeing or relaxing at the side of a pool. This trend needs to be taken into consideration and tapped into to continue attracting this new market,” says Roelofse.

He adds that another ‘trend’ shaping the industry is ecotourism. “The recent drought ravaging the country, especially in the Western Cape, has had a negative impact on all sectors.” He adds this situation makes the fact that annual tourism grew by 12,4% year-on-year during the second quarter even more remarkable.

“Local tourism operations have to think about how to handle the drought with their clients, especially those with adventure tourism operations that depend on water levels. Tourists don’t want to shower less, and covered swimming pools are not enticing, making it a sensitive issue for tourism operators to grapple with.”

While the drought may be unique to South African tourism, sustainability is fast becoming a buzzword in the tourism sector, and rightfully so. “If businesses and countries alike are to continue benefiting from the rewards and profits offered by the sector, we need to balance economic gains with sustainable environmental practices.

“Tourism businesses will need to tap into the trend of “ethical” or “responsible” tourism as the modern tourist is much more aware of the socio-economic and environmental impact of their travels. Increasingly, tourism businesses can impress their clients by showing them how their spending empowers communities and socio-economic development causes. It is in this context that tourists can be informed about the drought and water shortages, and how they can help by conserving water during their visit.”

To support the tourism sector on its growth trajectory, Roelofse says that South Africa’s tourism entrepreneurs need to keep providing good service, and offering authentic local experiences rather than passive sights and mere places to stay.

Although South Africa has over the years developed a reputation as a less-troubled corner of the world, crime remains a concern and is an issue that must be dealt with sensitively by Government and tourism entrepreneurs in their interaction with their clients.

He adds that the tourism sector also needs to more actively market South Africa’s winter-specific activities and attractions, such as whale watching or game viewing, as this can avoid the reoccurring dip in tourism figures during this quieter winter period. “While overseas visitors remain up in the second quarter, this figure is down 27,4% when compared to the first quarter of the year – a time popular for travellers wishing to take advantage of the festive summer season.

“As local tourism business owners prepare for the upcoming festive season, they should also be planning ahead for the 2018 winter period and marketing their offerings and specials to their respective clients and markets. If we can successfully tap into this market and maintain tourism figures during the winter months, there is an opportunity to not only drive business revenue year round, but also an opportunity to further contribute to the country’s GDP.”

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