Tourism stats indicate journey to recovery
Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille says the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly left a dent in the tourism industry, but the resilient sector is recovering.
"South Africa offers travellers unparalleled beauty and affordability, making it an irresistible destination," De Lille said when addressing a media briefing on the sidelines of Africa's Travel Indaba, which is underway in Durban.
De Lille said the sector is geared to catapult inbound tourism numbers beyond pre-COVID-19 levels.
"Achieving this monumental goal requires a united front: government, private sector, and all tourism stakeholders joining forces to redefine the travel experience in our beloved country."
She said 2022 heralded a resurgence, with nearly 5.8 million visitors gracing South Africa's shores, including four million from Africa. This was a 152.6% increase from 2021.
"We're not quite at the 10 million arrivals of 2019 but rest assured, our tireless collaboration with the private sector and Africa will take us there and beyond in no time.
"As the world reawakens, tourists are flocking back to South Africa, enticed by our unparalleled natural beauty and the warmth of our people. We are broadcasting a clear message - South Africa is open for tourism, welcoming business, and eagerly awaiting travelers from across Africa and the globe."
De Lille said the world is rediscovering South Africa, and will that will not only reach but will surpass pre-COVID numbers.
"Our determination and unity will light the way to a brighter future for South African tourism. From a domestic perspective, we have seen an incredible resilience, with Q1 2023 performance surpassing pre-pandemic levels and those of Q1 2022," De Lille said.
De Lille said tourists from Europe contributed the most spend of R10.8 billion, followed by Africa with a collective spend of R9.3 billion.
According to recent statistics, an impressive 2.1 million visitors were recorded, a 102.5% increase compared to the same period in 2022.
The African continent led the way again, with 1.6 million arrivals, followed by Europe's 387 000 and the Americas' 104 000 visitors.
De Lille said a significant driver of these remarkable figures is as a result of lifting of travel restrictions and affordability.
"After two years of restrictions and confinement, travellers are eager to explore wide-open spaces, and South Africa offers these in abundance," De Lille said.
Over 500 000 Zimbabwean travellers journeyed to South Africa between January and March 2023 compared to 643 000 in the same period in 2019 and 173 000 in 2022.
Mozambique followed as the second-largest source market, boasting over 354 000 arrivals between January and March 2023.
According to De Lille, South Africa offers a diverse range of captivating destinations for travellers, with Gauteng taking the lead in international arrivals, spend and bed nights.
International visitors tend to spend most of their nights in the Western Cape, followed by Gauteng. The Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, KZN and the North West draw tourists to their unique charms.