Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Sluggish economic growth over the next few years and a weak rand could help boost domestic tourism, as travellers opt for local travel instead of going abroad, the national tourism sector strategy has concluded.

The strategy, which was adopted by the Cabinet last week, builds on the 10-year strategy adopted in 2010. The labour-intensive tourism sector has been identified as a priority growth sector in the national development plan as it creates jobs, fosters the development of small businesses and generates foreign direct investment and significant export earnings.

Domestic tourism is regarded as providing the backbone to sustainable tourism growth but has registered a serious decline over the past few years. Domestic tourist trips declined 12.5% in 2015 compared to the previous year, and a further 0.7% in 2016.

While the national tourism sector strategy of 2010 projected a growth in domestic holiday trips from 4-million in 2009 to 6-million in 2015, there was in fact a decline from 3.6-million in 2009 to 2.84-million trips in 2015, according to SA Tourism.

"Domestic tourism should continue to be encouraged as the potential impact of this market is far greater than that of the international market," it was noted in the strategy document. As more than 70% of domestic tourists travel to visit friends and relatives, there is potential to turn this form of travel into a revenue stream. Business tourism also offered great potential, with 10% domestic tourists travelling for business purposes.

It was noted in the strategy document that SA Tourism’s significantly enhanced marketing budget for domestic tourism could play a role in boosting numbers, as well as the disincentive that a weak rand could have on foreign travel. Continued low economic growth is forecast for the next four years.

"Positive growth forecasts for domestic tourist holiday trips take into consideration these displaced international trips by South Africans and the new and significantly resourced domestic marketing strategy of SA Tourism. Together, it is expected that these will assist in driving up domestic holiday trip numbers.

"The seasonality needs to be improved as the seasonality index for domestic trips worsened from 22.1% in 2015 to 24% in 2016, as South Africans tend to travel more during school holidays."

It was acknowledged in the research that domestic economic conditions were the main factor contributing to lacklustre domestic tourism growth and spend, although market awareness and product offerings also played a role.

It referred to a domestic survey undertaken by SA Tourism in 2015, which found the top five reasons people had not travelled over the previous three years were unaffordability; no reason to do so; time constraints; unemployed/no income, and a dislike of travelling.

"The survey indicated that approximately 48% of the adult population of SA cannot afford to travel, are unemployed or have no income. The research further indicated the need to promote a culture of travel among all South Africans and to ensure that industry players, as well as SA Tourism, together with provinces and municipalities, invest more effort and resources towards unlocking and encouraging domestic travel."

Using a 2015 baseline the strategy projects that tourism’s direct contribution to GDP will increase from R118bn to R302bn in 2026 and for the number of jobs it supports to grow from 702,824 to 1-million over this period.

The strategy’s approach to tourism is that it is "government led, private sector driven and community based", and is grounded in cooperation and close partnerships between all stakeholders.

Its emphasis is to increase the number of tourists entering the country and the amount spent; the availability of tourism infrastructure; positioning South Africa as a regional shopping and business centre; and ease of access by air and travel facilitation through favourable visa regimes.

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