By Sinazo Mkoko

The recovery of South Africa’s tourism sector has gained incredible momentum, and this can be seen in South Africa’s tourism performance in the first half of 2022.

This is according to the National Department of Tourism. Speaking at the launch of Tourism Month, at !Khwa ttu, in the Western Cape on 4 September, Minister of Tourism, Lindiwe Sisulu, said the country’s international and domestic numbers are increasing gradually, “signalling that the sector is well on its way to recovery.” She said it is predicted by the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) that in 2024, the tourism sector will return to 2019 levels of activity. 


World ranking

Currently, South Africa is sitting at 68th in the world tourism rankings –  second place in the African continent after Mauritius. According to the Travel & Tourism Development Index (TTDI) 2021 released in May 2022, the “Sub-Saharan Africa (Africa) has had the greatest improvement in TTDI performance since 2019, with 17 out of the 21 regional countries covered by the index increasing their TTDI scores”.

The report showed that while Mauritius (62nd) ranks highest in the region, South Africa is the largest travel and tourism economy in Africa.


Domestic tourism

Minister Sisulu said the country’s tourism sector was supported by its citizens during the difficult and dark times of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that came with it. “Domestic tourism has been leading the sector’s recovery and continues to be the cornerstone of our industry. This is as a result of the concerted effort by the tourism sector to place a bigger focus on domestic tourism and the Revenge Tourism I talked about on Thursday when we released the international and domestic tourism statistics for the first six months of 2022,” she said. 

Minister Sisulu added: “This recovery is evident in the domestic tourism performance figures for the first half of 2022, with holiday trips increasing tremendously. Domestic travel figures have exceeded 2019 which is really fantastic and, in the first half of the year, South Africa recorded over a 100% increase in domestic trips compared to the same period in 2021.

“We are also seeing a significant increase in domestic spend. Local demand for travel has surged following the easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions and removal of travel bans. Many of our small tourism businesses that struggled during the travel restrictions benefitted from the spend we are seeing now.” 



Post-pandemic, the world is even more eager to travel and South Africa is among the countries that are benefiting from this. The Tourism Department stated that the country has seen an increase in local, regional and international travel. Minister Sisulu said as this demand increases, American and European airline carriers are also increasing the frequency of flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town. 

“In the first half of the year, South Africa recorded year-to-date international arrivals of 2.3 million. This is an increase of 147% when compared to the same period in 2021. Africa land markets are still the key driver of arrivals into South Africa, having contributed close to 1.7 million tourist arrivals between January and June 2022. During the same period, January and May 2022, tourist arrivals from the European market increased by 563%, to over 356 000, when compared to the same period in 2021,” she said. 


The challenges

There’s no sector without challenges and the country’s Tourism Department is not papering over the cracks on this. Minister Sisulu said while the country’s experienced aviation industry is doing well and they are pleased that South African Airways (SAA) is back in the skies, the aviation industry is “battling headwinds caused by risks including economic downturn, labour shortages and rising cost of jet fuel.”

She said they are doing all they can to deal with the challenges. “We are concerned that this may hamper the rejuvenation of our tourism sector and a few weeks ago we met with the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA) to understand the potential risks and how we could assist.” 


Forging ahead

Minister Sisulu shared that during the working visit to Expo 2020 Dubai, in December last year, the government held bilateral engagements with potential investors and members of the traders who sell South Africa to the world. “We held a very successful Travel Indaba in May and we are confident that a lot of mutually beneficial business deals will be borne out of Africa’s Travel Indaba,” she said.

She added that through SA Tourism, they have since signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Emirates to grow the tourism market in South Africa. “We expect this will promote tourism and inbound traffic to South Africa from key markets across the Emirates network. 

“We are also working on a Memorandum of Understanding with Qatar which will be hosting the World Cup this year as we have been chosen as a hub for the World Cup. The Middle East is a critical market for South Africa so these collaborations will provide ease of access to and from South Africa for travellers from this region and will boost our trade efforts.”


Travel & Tourism Development Index | StatsSA | Department of Tourism

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