Time for SA domestic tourism to flourish where COVID-19 fears to tread. Picture: Clinton Moodley.
Time for SA domestic tourism to flourish where COVID-19 fears to tread. Picture: Clinton Moodley.

Coronavirus got you down? Explore sunny South Africa

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Feb 25, 2020

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Coronavirus was not even a blip on the radar screen last year when the South African government set a target of 21 million overseas foreign arrivals by 2030. This year, the World Economic Forum describes the effect of the coronavirus outbreak on global travel as “devastating”, with people curbing their travel plans in a big way.

Staying home

SA Tourism’s national tourism statistics indicate that domestic tourism comprised over 60% of total tourist movements in 2018 and is a significant component of tourism in South Africa. Bernadine Galliver, Associate Director Tourism Specialist Unit at BDO, said there’s no better time than now for South Africans to rediscover their own country. 

Research conducted by the professional services firm on behalf of Durban Tourism points to over 90% of overnight visitors to Durban being domestic tourists. Of these, 75% of visitors came from outside of the province.

“You could argue that these inter-provincial tourists are shifting economic spend between provinces and that this is not as valuable as international tourist spend, which brings new spend to a destination. 

“However, this is a simplistic view of the economic impact that tourism has on a destination,” said Galliver.

Setbacks to international travel 

To add to the now multiple unforeseen events on the SA tourism horizon, Chinese citizens are being discouraged from travelling by their government to prevent the spread of the outbreak. Globally, travellers will be weighing up the odds about whether to postpone or reconsider their international travel plans within the next 12 to 18 months.

Some light at the end of the tunnel 

While this is a serious concern, there is some light in the viral doom. The reality is that domestic tourism in many regional tourism destinations throughout SA sustains and remains the mainstay of the tourism industry and its associated industries. “International tourism certainly has a significant role to play, but domestic tourism should not be downplayed as it serves as the catalyst for economic and infrastructure development in regional tourism destinations,” explained Galliver.

She added: “While we continue to market to foreign tourists, South Africans have a powerfully positive role to play in driving the country’s tourism efforts during this period by travelling in their own country.”

For instance, if the R9 billion spend by domestic tourists in Durban, KZN’s most visited destination, every year was to disappear or shrink, it would cause a significant loss in the number of jobs, large and small businesses (inside and outside of tourism), government taxes, household incomes and a collapse of key public and privately-owned tourism infrastructure and assets.

Given the tough local economic conditions, here’s what can be done to bolster domestic tourism:

  • Explore the types of experiences, facilities, activities and price points that key segments of the SA population are looking for. For example, city experiences are trending. “We need to develop products that meet the needs of new and emerging domestic markets and youth travellers.” 

  • Local travellers are currently price-sensitive and cash strapped. They are looking for deals and affordable, semi or fully-inclusive packages that combine transport and accommodation.
  • Educate domestic tourists on what is available. The average South African seems to be aware of iconic regional tourism offerings but not of the more diverse offerings in these destinations.
  • Use technology wisely. Social media and online presence are the two main information sources used by domestic tourists according to consumer focus group research conducted by BDO.


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