Visitors from the US now account for most of South Africa’s international tourists – beating out the UK and Germany.
South Africa traditionally saw large numbers of international visitors arriving from countries in Europe, with the United Kingdom (UK) and Germany topping the list.
The COVID-19 travel bans and lockdown restrictions have had a major upset on global travel and tourism and of course South Africa has not escaped unharmed with major changes in the country’s key tourism source markets.
SA’S REDUCED TOURIST ARRIVALS
Data released on 25 January 2022 shows that fewer than 330 000 overseas tourists travelled to South Africa between January and November in 2021, according to Stats SA’s latest report on tourism and migration. Before the pandemic, roughly 2.4 million tourists arrived on the shores of South Africa during the same period.
The number of overseas tourists visiting South Africa dropped by almost 80% in 2020, as the world entered hard lockdowns to limit the spread of COVID-19.
However, 2021 was no better for South Africa, with overseas tourism arrivals dropping by another 50% due to new COVID-19 variants and waves of infections introducing more travel restrictions.
EUROPEANS DOMINATE SA TOURISM
The UK has traditionally been South Africa’s top tourism source destination, with more visitors arriving here than from any other country. Visitors from the UK totalled around 400 000 in 2019.
Being on the UK’s red list for much of last year meant that all travellers arriving in the UK from South Africa had to undergo a 10-day self-funded quarantine at a cost of £2 285 (about R47 000). This had a significant impact on tourism flow from the UK to South Africa.
South Africa was removed from the UK’s red list in October last year. There was a gradual increase in the number of UK tourists arriving in South Africa from November, but this was short-lived since SA was again placed on the UK’s red list in November, following the detection of the Omicron variant in the country.
This led to the reimposition of restrictions on southern African destinations, which again impacted tourism flow from the UK.
Germany which had also been an important tourism source country for South Africa saw a decline in tourism flow to South Africa in 2021. This due to strict entry restrictions imposed on travellers arriving from destinations in southern Africa, which were classified as virus variant areas for extended periods in 2021.
CHANGES IN TOURISM FLOW
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, European visitors accounted for roughly 60% of the overseas tourists entering South Africa each year. Tourists from North America – both the United States (US) and Canada combined – accounted for around 17% according to Business Insider.
US restrictions on travel from South Africa were in place for most of last year, but unlike the restrictions imposed on the country by most European countries, US restrictions did not hinder its own nationals from travelling to South Africa.
US NOW SA’S TOP TOURISM SOURCE COUNTRY
US restrictions were mainly intended to restrict entry to foreign nationals. Fully vaccinated American citizens were allowed to enter the US without having to undergo mandatory quarantines. US-based airlines also launched new routes and increased their flight schedules on South African routes during 2021.
Almost 72 000 Americans arrived in South Africa by December 2021. The US has emerged as South Africa’s top tourism source country for 2021. The number of American visitors travelling to our shores last year almost equalled the combined total of UK and German tourists in 2021.
By: Lorne Philpot