Visitors abseil from the top of Table Mountain. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Visitors abseil from the top of Table Mountain. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Singapore — Understanding tourist demographics in SA could result in the country being seen as a more attractive tourist destination.

Statistics SA’s most recent figures, reported on June 18, showed a 6.9% decline in foreign travellers arrivals in April 2018 from a year earlier, to roughly 1.3-million from about 1.4-million. Departures fell 9% and transits were down 4%.

The US, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Belgium, France, Italy, Canada, France, Saudi Arabia, China and Denmark account for 78% of inbound tourists.

Reviewing SA’s approach to tourism requires an understanding of tourists’ differing needs, Mastercard’s senior vice-president of market insights, Sarah Quinlan, said at a Mastercard roundtable in Singapore on Wednesday.

For example, British tourists spend more on hotels, transport and food, while Chinese tourists spend more on shopping.

"Tourism is one of the biggest drivers of economic growth," said Quinlan. "However, you’re competing against all the other countries."

SA is losing momentum as a tourist destination, data suggests.  

Mastercard says that in the past eight years, travel and tourism has grown by 17.3% in the 10 fastest-growing global destinations.

In emerging markets, tourism's contributions to GDP grew from 30% in 1980 to 45% in 2015 and is expected to reach 57% by 2030 — but this hasn't translated to Africa.

One of the biggest deterrents to tourists visiting SA is the lack of communication, said Quinlan.

For instance, the water situation in Cape Town deterred tourists in 2017, but tourists are unaware that day zero is not actually approaching.

In June, Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said bad messaging about a "cataclysmic" day zero in drought-hit Cape Town had contributed to an expected fall in the numbers of overseas tourists visiting SA in 2018.

Stringent visa requirements has also damped tourism.

Tough visa requirements imposed about four years ago by Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba during his first stint in the job — including the requirement of unabridged birth certificates for children under the age of 18 — drew strong criticism.

Gigaba is now working with Hanekom to ease the situation.

Correction: July 11 2018

An earlier version of this article reported in the introduction that Mastercard said SA needed to consider repackaging its tourism offering. The introduction and the headline of the article have been amended.