SIMON BROWN: I’m chatting now with Tourism Business Council [of South Africa] CEO, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa. Tshifhiwa, I appreciate the time this morning. Our holiday season last year was sort of gearing up to be great, then suddenly Omicron came along, the British closed borders, and so on. It reopened I think around mid-December and got back to some level of normality. Did we see from your sense much foreign tourism coming into South Africa over the recent holiday season?
TSHIFHIWA TSHIVHENGWA: Well, we didn’t see a lot of foreign visitors coming into South Africa during this season, due to the reasons that you have mentioned and the fact that we got off the ‘red list’ much later in the middle of December – so to speak across our Christmas. So we didn’t see many UK visitors and we didn’t see many European visitors because all the countries sort of followed later or as soon as they started to understand that Omicron was also in their own country and they could easily catch it there or here. So we didn’t see many international guests.
What we have seen is a lot of domestic tourists who visited various parts of the country and supported us as the tourism sector; we are thankful for that because, if it wasn’t for domestic travellers, we’d be talking a different story altogether. So we’re grateful for that. But international travel has still a long way to go. We still have to rebuild our brand that has been associated with Omicron and the Beta variant – still a long way to go from that point of view.
SIMON BROWN: Locally – South Africans travel a lot internally – did we see a significant uptake? For example, I was supposed to be in France for Christmas and New Year, and that of course got cancelled because the French closed their borders. So I ended up in the eastern Free State and then the KZN coastline. Did we perhaps see some of that that lost tourism from the foreigners being picked up by locals? Did we travel more than usual, perhaps?
TSHIFHIWA TSHIVHENGWA: Absolutely. We did see a lot of people who were going to be outbound travellers going to the EU or the US, or even going to Mauritius as one of the most popular destinations. We just got off the Mauritius red list, I think, a few days ago. So a lot of people who wanted to go somewhere had to rearrange their travels and travel within South Africa.
Hoteliers have seen many people arriving at their hotels and increasing the occupancy, but the revenue per room was not as significant because they had to cut their prices to attract local travellers. These are properties that are mainly geared for international travellers and their services – five star or six star services.
So they had to rearrange and get local travellers into their properties. Again, when your revenue is not equal to what you used to do – yes, you may have full capacity, but revenue is quite important because that’s what supports business and that’s what pays for the input costs and so forth. So that’s what we’ve seen.
We definitely have seen a lot of South Africans who wanted to travel outside, and who couldn’t travel outside, travelling in their own country and really supporting the industry.
SIMON BROWN: A last question. You mentioned there about rebuilding our brand because of Omicron, and previous to that, as you mentioned, we can go all the way back to late 2020 and the Beta variant. We do have, I imagine, still a very strong brand for value and quality. You mentioned the five- and six stars: for me and you it’s a lot in [rands], but for someone spending sterling or dollars, not so much – and Cape Town is certainly a global destination.
TSHIFHIWA TSHIVHENGWA: Absolutely. We do have products here in South Africa, tourism products that offer great value for money for international travellers. For the same thing in the US or UK or anywhere else they will be paying a whole lot more than what they do when they come to South Africa. So we always surpass expectations when it comes to international travellers, and that’s what has worked for us.
But what we need to work on now is our brand as a country that has been tarnished by many, many different things. We know last year about the uprisings in KZN, we know [about] the Delta variant, the Omicron variant, the crime that persists. Those are the things that we need to continue to work on to make sure that a whole lot more people come to South Africa.
We only attract a very small, marginal percentage of global travellers. It may be not even 1% of global travellers, But what we need to do is to move that needle up to get it to 2% or 2.5% of global travellers coming into South Africa.
But there’s a whole lot more that we need to do from the brand point of view.
We are geared this coming year to do so and to go around the world and reactivate our brand, and also get brand ambassadors who are prominent in those markets to support us and get more people to come to South Africa.
SIMON BROWN: I take your point. Of course, things like the June/July riots are completely beyond the control of the industry, but so have an impact there.
We’ll leave that there. Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, Tourism Business Council CEO, I appreciate the early morning.
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