Sporting events are one of the biggest tourist attractions and make a valuable economic impact. Photo: Eugene Hoshiko/AP

JOHANNESBURG – Touring our own cities and holidaying in our own country has a far greater impact than the average South African realises. “Stay-at-home (or domestic) tourism is one of the most important contributors to helping us future proof our tourism market – and it doesn’t always take big spend,” says Lee-Anne Bac, Director, Tourism Specialist Unit at professional services firm, BDO.

This weekend, more than 50 000 fans roared out the national anthem at the 2019 Cape Town Sevens in what was a feisty final. And while the All Blacks beat South Africa 5 – 7 on the day, the real win was a fun long-weekend for local and travelling domestic and foreign rugby fans, who between them enjoyed over 120 000 tickets at the three-day event.

The latest tourism and migration figures released by Stats SA, however, reflect a two-year decline up to September for overseas and African tourism. At minus 2%, the figure is not large, but the numbers equate to about 146 000 tourists over the period. Because there is no big fix, no single campaign that will grow the local tourism industry to its rightful place, a lot more of the right things need to be done in order to get us over the try line.

#1 Going domestic

“Most international destinations in the world have a strong domestic tourism market, and we are lucky in South Africa because we have a sizeable local market with great tourism products; we need to keep growing domestic day-trips and overnight travel,” says Bac. She explains that we have to start thinking differently about tourism. “The domestic market should actually be called a “visitor economy” because we understand the term visitor and we’re good at being hosts. Tourism is about hosting, whether it’s in a hotel or at home.” She believes locals don’t always understand the term tourism - there’s a huge misperception that it’s reserved for people with a lot of money. The truth is, if each of us does one tourist activity at home, it makes a big difference to the coffers – we don’t realise that travelling for a wedding or a family occasion increases spend, which in turn drives local economic activity. In fact, the majority of small town tourism is made up of local visitors. 

#2 Visiting friends and relatives

Known to the industry as VFR travel, this market makes up a large 40 – 50% of domestic and international tourism. In South Africa, the VFR market includes urban residents travelling “home” for the holidays; friends and family travelling to visit or stay with each other; and also foreign visitors travelling to SA to stay with friends and family. Far more could be done in this area, such as encouraging hosts and guests to visit local attractions, or even to get out of their comfort zones and take a “Sho’t Left” instead of staying at home. The industry really needs to understand the VFR market better because it’s quick turnaround business with a ready and waiting market to tap into.

#3 An eye on youth

Now that the unabridged birth certificate rule has been scrapped, far more focus needs to be directed at youth tourism. “The official documentation only came into place in November, so there’s not been much time to experience a difference in foreign tourism numbers this summer, but we are hoping for an uptick in September 2020 through to March 2021,” says Bac. Some of the forward bookings for next year, particularly for destinations such as Cape Town, are starting to show improved figures compared to a few months ago. The opportunities for family and even multi-generational travel abound and the industry should be packaging experiences that cater for all family members. Additional opportunities for youth sporting events off South Africa’s positive global sporting image are a definite opportunity to capitalise on.

Youth includes anyone below the age of 35, and the key opportunity in this market is that while they may be money poor; they are time rich and in search of meaningful experiences for which they are prepared to pay. If we can capture their hearts, South Africa can remain top of the list as a go-to holiday destination for years to come.

#4 Sports wins

Sporting events are one of the biggest tourist attractions and make a valuable economic impact. The global sports tourism market is set to grow by $6.12 billion over the next three to four years, according to Technavio, a market research company based in the UK. With an eye on the future, SARU has already secured the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour, and the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2022. South Africa’s busy sporting calendar includes the 2019/20 English cricket tour of South Africa; the Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal match in Cape Town in February; the Netball World Cups in 2022 and 2023 and annual iconic events such as the Comrades, Soweto, Two Oceans and Cape Town Marathons, and the Cape Town Cycle Tour.

“We conducted an economic impact assessment and found that the two-day 2017 Rugby Sevens event attracted around 10 000 foreign visitors to SA, amounting to R110-m in direct spend,” says Bac. She explains that because the World Cup event in 2022 will be a longer three-day tour, SA can expect a much higher direct impact and economic benefit for the City of Cape Town and South Africa as a whole. This is over and above the media coverage of the event that will again put SA in the spotlight.

To add to this, the British and Irish Lions tour in 2021 is a five-week event with matches taking place across the country. This provides potential for an increase in tourist numbers and an influx in spend. With the best players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales converging on home turf in a face-off with the South African World Champions, it will be a tour of huge impact and excitement with thousands of fans expected to visit.

These events are exactly what is needed to build on the momentum of the 2019 Rugby World Cup victory, and it’s the type of positivity that no amount of marketing spend can buy. If we want to reach the 21 million overseas foreign arrival target, as set out by President Cyril Ramaphosa in the SONAR for 2030, it’s large events like these that raise the country’s profile, and bring in the numbers.

Content supplied by BDO South Africa.

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