The latest tourism statistics have revealed that South Africa received just more than 2 million visitors in the first quarter of this year, more than twice as many compared with the same period last year, showing a “strong and sustained” recovery in tourism, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
In his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa said that after the devastation caused by the Covid pandemic to the country’s local tourism industry, the latest figures on tourist arrivals show that the industry “is making a strong and sustained comeback”.
Statistics from Stats SA and SA Tourism recently released by Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille show that nearly 5.7 million visitors graced our shores last year. This was an increase of more than 150% on the previous year.
Ramaphosa said although tourist arrivals were not yet at pre-pandemic levels, the latest figures showed a significant and rapid recovery was under way.
“This is taking place in the midst of heightened political and economic uncertainty across the world and particular challenges, especially around electricity supply, here at home.
“Yet, despite these difficult conditions, visitors see South Africa as an attractive destination with unparalleled natural beauty, warm and hospitable people, and good value,” he said.
He noted that the potential of South Africa’s tourism industry was evident at Africa’s Travel Indaba held in eThekwini earlier this month.
Of the exhibitors at the Indaba, more than 120 were small local tourism enterprises that were supported by the government to display their unique products and services, expand their networks and foster partnerships.
“Not only are we seeing more tourists coming to our shores, but they are also spending more during their visits – more than R25 billion in the first quarter of 2023.
“This is a valuable stream of foreign exchange, sustaining and creating jobs and enabling further investment in our tourism infrastructure.
“The release of these figures during Africa Month is particularly encouraging given that the majority of visitors to South Africa in 2022, approximately 4 million, were from our continent.
“Travellers from the region and the broader continent are increasingly seeing South Africa as a premier tourism destination and are flocking here to experience our natural wonders and to spend money at South African businesses,” Ramaphosa said.
Given the importance of growing tourism to South Africa’s economy, Ramaphosa said they are determined to forge ahead with the process of immigration reform to improve the country’s competitiveness as a tourism destination.
At this year’s 5th South Africa Investment Conference, Ramaphosa announced the expansion of the e-Visa system from the 14 countries in which it currently operates to include an additional 20 countries.
“There are obviously linkages between tourists visiting a country and potential future trade and investment. Last week, the Department of Home Affairs published its visa reform implementation plan, which will help to further boost tourism and attract investment,” he said.
He added that the recovery of South Africa’s aviation sector was also supporting tourism growth.
South African Airways was expanding into more markets on the continent, he said, and there was the resumption of direct flights from major destinations. By way of example, Air China has resumed direct flights to South Africa, and United Airlines now flies directly to New York and Washington DC.
“The latest tourism figures are very encouraging and should strengthen our resolve to ensure that tourism becomes one of the biggest drivers of our economic recovery,” he concluded.