Statistics SA reports show “domestic visitors were the biggest spenders, pumping R156 billion (56%) into the economy, while international visitors contributed the remaining R121bn (44%) in 2017. File picture: Tracey Adams-/African News Agency/ANA
Statistics SA reports show “domestic visitors were the biggest spenders, pumping R156 billion (56%) into the economy, while international visitors contributed the remaining R121bn (44%) in 2017. File picture: Tracey Adams-/African News Agency/ANA

Tourism can power economy if aimed at locals

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 4, 2020

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Victor Kgomoeswana

This month ushered in a new era in our lockdown existence. Among the aspects of life as we used to know it pre-Covid-19, international travel is returning.

This prompted a friend and Facebook charisma, Nkosazana Tengimfene, to challenge me to comment on her belief about the “contribution of the tourism sector to the country’s GDP, as many of the wealthier countries are still classified as high Covid risks”.

She picked on me, out of the blue, to comment about whether travelling to the rest of Africa, which can be difficult due to cost and infrastructure backlogs in some countries, was worth looking at.

Nkosazana, forget greater Africa for now, though it is worth exploring any time. Focus on what tourism stands to gain in lockdown level 1 South Africa.

International travellers have to present a test that is not older than 72 hours when they land. International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor said they “should possess a mandatory travel insurance which is supposed to cover the Covid-19 test and quarantine costs” that might be necessary after screening.

Covid-19 forced us to return to basic hygiene and to remember how to manage our borders properly in order to stop the pandemic spreading, illegal immigration and human trafficking.

Our porous borders - more accurately, corruption at border posts, Home Affairs and in law enforcement agencies - let in too many unaccounted-for immigrants. The laxity has overwhelmed our social services’ infrastructure and fuelled Afrophobia.

The absence of tourists from the UK, most of the EU countries, the US, China and so on will dampen our tourism revenue, as Nkosazana fears, in the short term but is a blessing long term.

In addition to forcing us to manage our ports of entry vigilantly, it will teach our tourism industry to price itself for the domestic traveller. We overprice everything from those locally assembled cars, pay-TV subscriptions to data. Visit Cape Town to appreciate our self-destructive obsession with international “rich” tourists.

The Taj Mahal in India or Hollywood in Los Angeles succeed because of local consumption that triggers international popularity. The Oscar-nominated Hollywood movies we flock to watch in our theatres first had to be seen and liked by millions of Americans, convincing us that they are good for us too. We, instead, price the locals out of our tourist establishments to impress foreigners. Well, the foreigners are missing, and locals consider travelling too pricey.

Statistics SA reports show “domestic visitors were the biggest spenders, pumping R156 billion (56%) into the economy, while international visitors contributed the remaining R121bn (44%) in 2017. Of the R156bn, 27% went to road passenger transportation and 17% to non-specific spending, which includes shopping along the way. Tourism has more positive spin-offs than we give it credit for.

If domestic tourists spend more than foreign tourists, then domestic tourism can power our economic recovery. We can top this up with travellers from other African countries, who come to shop, then add affordable educational tours in nature reserves. Fellow South Africans, let us internalise the new normal, in every aspect of our lives.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business, a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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