Derek Hanekom. Picture: GCIS
Derek Hanekom. Picture: GCIS

Bad messaging about a "cataclysmic" Day Zero in drought-hit Cape Town has contributed to the lower numbers of overseas tourists expected to visit SA in 2018, Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said on Tuesday.

He said in an interview that many tourists — especially from the UK, which is SA’s biggest single overseas source market — would have put off travelling to SA in 2018 because of the drought in Cape Town.

Hanekom said discussions between the departments of tourism and home affairs were ongoing on ways to ease access of tourists to SA, including the recognition of the visas issued by visa-secure countries such as the UK, the US and Australia.

The department was also working towards the introduction of e-visas, which Hanekom said would go a long way to addressing the logistical problems experienced by tourists. SA was in talks with the Chinese and Indian governments on reducing barriers hindering more tourists to SA.

While the number of overseas tourists increased in the first four months of 2018, growth would not be as high as the 7.2% recorded in 2017.

"I don’t think we should be expecting this kind of growth this year," he said, adding that this was partly due to the as yet unquantified impact of the drought. "Reports that we get from hotel groups is that their forward bookings, especially in Cape Town, were seriously affected by the drought.

"There have been cancellations by people who were not sure the drought would be over when they arrived. They had heard about the Day Zero."

While the number of overseas tourists increased in the first four months of 2018, growth would not be as high as the 7.2% recorded in 2017.

While the Cape Town city council had reacted well to the pending drought crisis and felt it necessary to employ shock tactics to reduce water consumption, in hindsight the Day Zero concept had very negative effects on SA’s tourist markets, he said. It raised fears that Day Zero would occur while the tourists were in Cape Town. "Cape Town didn’t run out of water; it wasn’t going to."

However, he noted that the decline in overseas visitors in 2018 could result in a very strong rebound in 2019 by those who postponed their visits. This was on condition the back of the drought was broken as current rainfall in Cape Town suggested.

According to figures released by Statistics SA this week, the number of overseas tourists decreased year on year in April by 12.6%. But Hanekom said this was not unexpected because the Easter weekend fell in March, which had bolstered the March tourism numbers.

"March was a good month this year compared to last year, when Easter fell in April. This year Easter fell at the end of March. I am not at all alarmed by the drop in April. It was to be expected," he said.

The highest year-on-year increase of 16.3% was for tourists from Brazil, a continuation of the trend which saw a huge growth of 75% in 2017.

Tourists from Southern African Development Community countries decreased by 3.5%. Tourists from other African countries decreased by 1.6%.