Some destinations come and go on Best Of and Bucket Lists but Cape Town has hung in there, writes Mike Wills.
Cape Town - Apparently, Cape Town’s already full for Christmas and the New Year. There are a few rooms available, but the word is city hotels are enjoying a bumper pre-booking for the peak holiday period. And that’s without the invading Barmy Army of English cricket fans which swamped the city last New Year and generally boosted the local economy.
I’d assumed the inexorable rise of Airbnb, with around 8 000 city listings at the last count, would put a big hole beneath the waterline of full-service hotels, but apparently not so.
There are other indicators of robust good health in our tourism sector.
The airport numbers are extremely strong. The 2015/16 financial year (ending March) saw 4.3 million total arrivals at Cape Town International, a record number. And the four months so far reported in the new fiscal year are all up year-on-year.
The flight stats also reveal the length and strength of our tourist season. We’re not a one-hit wonder. While the annual peak in international arrivals is in January (91 000 in 2016), we’re above 80 000 from November right through March.
So the good times are rolling but no one seems to notice. It’s almost a secret, lost in the pervasive political and economic gloom.
Why are we such a popular destination at the moment?
Well, primarily, because this is a stunning place to visit. We can become blasé about the space around us and it usually takes the awed tones of an outsider (or a glorious sunny Sunday like the one this past weekend) to remind us of how much there is to see, do and experience in this part of the world.
And our infrastructure is solid. The airport’s world class, a combination of MyCiTi and Uber has finally delivered a tourist-friendly urban transport solution and our tour operators are generally sound.
Obviously the rand is a big player as well. We offer astonishing value in any strong currency. One friend in the industry tells of a recent wealthy English visitor who twice questioned Cape bills at different high-end establishments because he thought they’d left a nought off the total.
We’ve also remained resiliently trendy. Some destinations come and go on Best Of and Bucket Lists but Cape Town has hung in there. For the past two decades we’ve consistently featured in glowing terms in global tourism media.
And, finally, hard though it might be to believe, we’re seen as safe. While our crime rate is appalling, Cape Town is a relative haven from terrorism compared to competitor destinations like Turkey, France, North Africa, the US and even Thailand.
And the refugee crisis has created doubt in the minds of many travellers for most of the Mediterranean. Brexit has also helped because the Brits are feeling decidedly unwelcome on the continent.
As for the local political ructions,, they’re not global headline grabbers.
Most visitors wouldn’t know the name of Jacob Zuma, let alone that of Pravin Gordhan.