Southern Africa – Tourism Revenue On The Rise?

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The African continent is the perfect playground. Southern Africa, in particular, remains the most popular watering hole for tourists with a thirst for thrills. Though Africa is home to fifty-four countries, fifteen member states of Southern Africa form the SADC region (the Southern African Development Community) frequented by tourists, bar Angola, namely South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Malawi, Madagascar, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The global network of luxury travel agencies lists adventure as the primary motivation for travel in 2018. According to their Virtuoso Luxe Report 2017, the forecasted emerging travel developments list South Africa as the number one world-wide destination for adventure. South Africa also received second place for best global destination and fourth for top emerging destination. The report lists that ‘travellers are seeking adventures in less explored areas and exploring new destinations has served as 2017’s top travel motivator. Travellers today crave active experiences that are customised to their interests and abilities, and are venturing all over the globe to find them.’

Tourism plays a vital role in Southern Africa, with benefits spanning into the economic, socio-cultural and environmental sectors. According to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the total contribution of tourism to South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) was R402bn in 2016 (9.3% of GDP) and is expected to grow by 2.5% to R412.2bn (9.4% of GDP) in 2018. The growth is forecasted to rise by 4.2% per year to R624.2bn by 2027, or 11.5% of GDP. The devaluation of the Rand, alongside the cultural and historical background, the beautiful scenery, relaxed visa regulations and added international air routes have all been the catalyst of South Africa remaining in the forefront as a tourist destination. SADC countries accounted for 73% of all South Africa’s foreign visitors in 2016. Based on tourist arrivals, Zimbabwe comes a close second as the most popular destination, and of the visitors from SADC countries, Angola and Madagascar were the only countries to report decreases in 2016. The WTTC 2016 statistics listed destinations with the strongest growth in international arrivals as Zimbabwe (+177,000), Mauritius (+112,000) and Seychelles (+43,000).


According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), overall hotel room revenue of foreign overnight visitors in South Africa, Mauritius and Tanzania rose 12.2% in 2016, the biggest increase since 2013. Mauritius and South Africa had the largest gains at 15.3% and 12.2%. Tourism is Tanzania’s largest industry, contributing to more than 17% of the GDP. Tanzania’s hotel room revenue resulted in a growth of 7.7% over 2015 and US$224 million in 2016. The introduction of 18% VAT on tourism services in Tanzania, in an effort by Government to improve infrastructure, will likely account for a decline in 2017; however, bookings that were made in advance of the new tax law resulted in an actual increase in tourism in 2016. PwC predicts that Tanzania will rebound after 2017, with a substantial increase (6.9%) in room revenue due to planned infrastructure investments, such as much-needed road improvement and power outages.

There are planned improvements in aviation with upgrades to regional airports and Air Tanzania purchasing new aircraft from Boeing, with the result of increased routes and a stronger economy to support tourism, due to low inflation. The GDP is expected to grow by 7.2% in 2017 and remains one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Over the next five years, five new major hotels from Anantara, Rotana, Element, Melia and City Lodge are in the pipeline to open, one in Zanzibar, one in Serengeti and three in Dar es Salaam. Total room revenue in Tanzania is expected to rise to $371 million (R4.6 billion) in 2021 from $224 million (R3.3 billion) in 2016.

The introduction of tourism taxes to support sustainable development is becoming a trend in countries worldwide. Despite opposition from the tourism industry, Botswana also recently introduced a US$30 tax on all tourists entering the country with the intention of improving conservation in one of the top wildlife-viewing destinations in the world. The Tourism Development Levy (TDL) was met with disapproval from Botswana’s Hospitality and Tourism Association (Hatab). Residents of SADC countries are exempt from the tax.

The Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) justified the levy for the purpose of supporting the growth of the tourism industry and ultimately improving the lives of local residents. Botswana receives 1.6million visitors a year, of which 42,000 are British. The introduction of the levy will result in close to US$ 43million income per annum from the tax, including the 190,000 SADC visitors. International tourist arrivals to the area grew by 20% year-on-year in 2015, with total tourists over 2,5million. In 2017, an estimated 2,74 million tourists will enter the country, with an average year-on-year growth of 6, 17% between 2017 and 2021, with over 3,51 million tourist arrivals. Tourism generated 32,000 jobs directly in 2014, constituting 4.6 % of total employment.

Mauritius hotel room revenue is expected to grow at 6.2% annually to 2021. An increasing business destination alongside leisure travel made the Mauritian market more appealing to online platform Airbnb, facilitating growth in non-hotel accommodation and other tourist residences. Hotel rooms now only make up 62% of total available rooms when searching for any form of accommodation. In 2016, the number of tourist arrivals to Mauritius increased by 10.8%, surpassing growth over previous years.

Veranda Grand Baie Hotel & Spa, Mauritius

Veranda Grand Baie Hotel & Spa, Mauritius

The Mauritian Government investment in tourism and added direct flights by Air Mauritius and SAA resulted in the number of tourist arrivals increasing by 10.8% in 2016, and strong infrastructure and low inflation rates are projected to grow the economy by 3.9%. PwC has, however, predicted tourism numbers to decrease slightly in 2018, as a result of accommodation being booked to overcapacity, which led to declining daily rates and delays in hotel renovations. New hotels expected to enter the region in 2018 and over the next five years include the Ritz Carlton and Park Inn by Radisson Mauritius in 2018, a Sheraton Hotel and Hilton Garden Inn in 2020, and the Anantara Le Chaland Hotel.

Direct travel and tourism employment in Sub-Saharan Africa rose to 6.7 million jobs in 2016. The contribution of the tourism sector to employment in South Africa alone was 1.5 million jobs, or, 9.8% of total employment, and growth is expected to rise to 6.7% in 2018. Essentially, that means that the tourism sector will contribute 1.6 million jobs or 10.2% of total employment to the country, and that is by no means a small percentage. By 2027, international tourist arrivals to South Africa are expected to total 19 million, with a contribution of R271.3bn and an increase of 7.3%. The Seychelles, South Africa and Mauritius feature the highest direct tourism employment in the region.

Valmer Resort, Seychelles

Valmer Resort, Seychelles

The Seychelles recorded an increase of 10% in visitor arrival numbers in 2016, after a 19% increase in 2015. The government has placed strategies in place to promote tourism to foreigners in key markets and to upgrade local cultural markets and activities. Alain St. Ange, Minister of Tourism and Culture for the Republic of Seychelles believes that tourism is the life-line of the island. He said, “Seychelles is part of the small developing island states and one that depends entirely on tourism. Our tourism industry, and the tourism industry of Africa, needs consolidation and this will be achieved when Africa works with Africa”.

In April 2017, Air Seychelles and the Seychelles Tourism Board produced a tourism roadshow in three of Germany’s main cities to promote new direct air routes to the island, and hotel establishments including Constance Hotels, Le Duc, Valmer Resorts, Eden Bleu, Hilton Seychelles and Raffles, and tour operator 7° South. Roy Kinnear, Chief Executive Officer of Air Seychelles, said: “This roadshow will take us to three of the biggest cities in Germany, raising awareness of our new air link. The introduction of our non-stop service to Düsseldorf has created a fantastic opportunity to grow our tourism links to Germany”.

Malawi’s beautiful scenery is mostly in poor rural areas, which is an opportunity to boost local communities with injections of tourist capital at the cultural and natural resources, such as Lake Malawi. In 2015, tourism was responsible for contributing 7.2% of GDP, providing 446, 000 jobs or 6.2 percent of total employment. Local government is promoting the importance of the tourism sector for social and economic growth of the country and increasing employment. The aim of the Tourism Development Strategic Plan 2016 – 2021 plans to grow visitors from 804,000 in 2014 to 1.2 billion in 2021, contributing 10 – 15% of the GDP. The efforts of government to increase tourism investments include the construction of Umodzi Park for conferences such as the ‘Takulandirani 2017 Malawi International Tourism Expo (MICE),’ aimed at developing, promoting and regulating the tourist industry.

Road and infrastructure upgrades, such as the Kia and Chileka Airports are also in the pipeline, but deforestation and lack of connectivity to attractive sites are challenges. With 61% of visitors to the area staying at National Parks and wildlife reserves, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining has recently approved the Department of National Parks and Wildlife to relocate over 500 elephants from Liwonde National Park to Nkhotakota Wildlife Game Reserve and Nyika National Park to boost tourism in Malawi.

Other countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) face similar challenges to the tourism sector in the form of poor access, infrastructure, transportation and political instability resulting in security threats. The media is partially to blame, as the vastness of the area means that one particular area that may be unstable may be thousands of kilometres away. Tourism contributed US$ 0.3bn (or 0.7%) to the GDP in 2016, and is forecast to rise by 8.5% in 2018, rising by 6% per annum from 2017-2027 to US$0.5bn (0.8%) of total GDP in 2027. In 2016, tourism supported 152,000 jobs, or 0.5% of total employment in the region. This is expected to increase by 5.9% in 2017 and rise by 3.2% per annum to 222,000 jobs (0.6%) in 2027 (Source: wttc.org). Despite challenges, modernisation of four major airports in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Goma and Kisangani is underway, alongside refurbishment of five-star hotels, the Grand Hotel and Fleuve Congo Hotel in Kinshasa and the Grand Karavia Hotel in Lubumbashi.

In June 2017, the EU removed Mozambique from their Air Safety ‘blacklist,’ which had been imposed due to non-conformities identified in the audit in 2010 by the International Civil Aviation Organization. Along with relaxed aviation, Mozambique has put efforts in to boost tourism with a visa on arrival at borders that are equipped with the equipment necessary to issue biometric visas. Blake Gray from Connection Ida, Mozambique’s largest Tourism Publicity Company, said, “This is an important step (by the government) in opening Mozambique as a popular tourism destination.”

He added, “This question has caused so much confusion to people planning their holidays and countless potential travellers have just decided to go elsewhere. We have been campaigning for clarity regarding this issue with INATUR for some time.” Forty-four Mozambiquen borders will issue biometric visas to visitors in time for major refurbishments in the hospitality industry, including Tsogo Suns’ Tete Ferry Sun in Mozambique’s Tete Province, a growing destination particularly for business travellers. Tsogo Sun has also begun construction on a new R220 million hotel, StayEasy Maputo, due for completion in April 2018 and within walking distance to the group’s Southern Sun Maputo Hotel.

The government of the Kingdom of Swaziland has introduced a compulsory grading system to register all accommodation establishments in the country with the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, to be regulated by government in the bid to a world-class tourism industry. Registration is compulsory; however, grading is voluntarily performed by the Swaziland Tourism Authority (STA), signalling the importance for tourism operators and accommodation providers to align with international standards to remain competitive. International visitors to the country increased by 11,1% during the period of April and May 2017.

Namibia’s exquisite landscapes, including the breath-taking vast desert and vibrant cultural diversity has made it a popular southwestern destination. Like South Africa, Namibia boasts well-developed infrastructure and world-class financial and telecommunications services, boosting business and investment in agriculture, manufacturing, transport and tourism. Through the efforts of sustainable tourism and conservation, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) has protected 43.6% of land under conservation management programmes, promoting positive collaboration between local communities and the environment and resulting in more than
250,000 – or one in five – rural Namibians benefitting from conservancies and generating US$ 5.5 million in annual income (African Development Bank, African Tourism Monitor 2016). The Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) listed Namibia’s tourism industry as having recorded the best results in 2016 in over a decade, with hospitality recording 60% occupancy rates.

Namibia desert and dunes

Namibia desert and dunes

Hotel development in Sub-Saharan Africa has boomed, with a total of 365 hotels in the pipeline during 2016, as opposed to 177 in 2012. The phenomenal increase has arisen not only from new hotel chains, but existing hotels increasing their footprint, such as Hilton, which increased from five hotels (1 200 rooms) in 2009 to 36 hotels (8,500 rooms) in 2016. AccorHotels signed a ground-breaking deal in Angola with AAA Activos LDA for fifty hotels and over 6 200 rooms, including the Ibis Styles Mercure and Sofitel brands. Alongside Angola, South Africa holds the largest amount of hotel development or construction during 2016, with eleven hotels in the pipeline. The City Lodge Hotel Group constructed a new 151-room Town Lodge in Windhoek, Namibia, as well as City Lodge Hotel in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. May 2017 saw the official launch of the Pinnon Safari Lodge in the Kafue National Park in Zambia.

The addition of the new airport on the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls has meant that Zimbabwe is no longer dependent on air travellers from Zambia’s Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport in Livingstone. Victoria Falls is one of the area’s biggest drawcard for tourists, and as a result, development in the hospitality industry is soaring. African Sun and Legacy Hospitality were taken over in 2015 and underwent radical upgrades, including five of African Sun’s hotels – The Kingdom at Victoria Falls, Elephant Hills Hotel, Hwange Safari Lodge, the Monomotapa Hotel and Troutbeck. The environmentally-friendly and solar-powered Batonka is another new development, offering sustainable tourism in the form of recycled grey water systems. The Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group has added five Park Inn by Radisson hotels to its portfolio in Angola with plans underway for Radisson Blu in Zimbabwe to launch in 2019.

With so much revenue potential, the tourism industry has been described as an untapped goldmine. Josiah Montsho, General Manager at Pepperclub Hotel & Spa in Cape Town’s CBD, is encouraged by the increase in passengers travelling through Cape Town International Airport. In 2016, the airport was visited by a record-breaking 10 million passengers. There was an 8% year-on-year increase in 2016, with over 500,000 visitors in December alone. This is in stark contrast to the dismal decline in 2015, which could be a result of tight visa regulations and confusion over unabridged birth certificates.

“After experiencing the biggest decline in six years in 2015 because of changes to visa and immigration policies, the industry has made an exceptional recovery,” remarked Montsho. Some of Cape Town’s top attractions listed record visitor figures over peak season, including Groot Constantia, Cape Point in Table Mountain National Park, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, Robben Island and Table Mountain Aerial Cable Way. The hotel sector in Cape Town flourished in 2016 as the ‘Mother City’ is the primary tourist destination in the country. Over the next five years, 55% of all the rooms expected to be added in South Africa will be in Cape Town.

“As South Africa offers international travellers a variety of experiences at an affordable price, it comes as no surprise that the country has quickly regained its popularity. We can expect this trend to continue into 2018 – with more developments planned to attract a range of travellers to our shores for both business and leisure.” Montsho added. Western Cape Economic Development MEC, Alan Winde recently revealed that there are new developments in the pipeline that will attract more visitors and create thousands of jobs for locals in the Cape, such as a new tourist cycling route and a Madiba Legacy Route. Additional flight routes have attributed to the success of cities like Cape Town and Durban, with King Shaka processing 2.1 million travellers in 2016. The overwhelming demand for a year-round route to Cape Town resulted in Lufthansa recently celebrating its new direct year-round flight between Frankfurt and Cape Town. The project has been implemented to improve air travel from Germany, which is the second biggest group of foreign visitors to South Africa after the UK, with 170 000 German tourists visiting every year. There are roughly 250 000 Germans living in South Africa, with approximately 600 German companies listed, and the move by Lufthansa will assist in fostering cultural ties between the countries.

Emirates has added a third daily flight between Cape Town and Dubai, and British Airways has three new flights between Gatwick and Cape Town. Johannesburg is still the leading airline traffic region, with growth at OR Tambo processing nearly 20.4 million passengers in 2016, double that of Cape Town. Tourism employs 204 000 people in the Western Cape, and the Western Cape Government aims to add another 100,000 jobs under the Project Khulisa growth strategy. Winde pointed out that a key driver in growing tourism in the region is making it easier for people to travel there.


“Since July last year, this additional capacity generated R3bn in tourism spend for the Western Cape. Three thousand jobs are supported by each regularly scheduled long haul flight and for every 10% increase in passenger numbers, the regional economy grows by 2%. These figures illustrate the value of increased air access,” said Winde. Enver Duminy, CEO of Cape Town Tourism, described Cape Town as “truly becoming a 365 destination” – that is, open for business year-round and one which has successfully combatted the dreaded seasonality in tourism. Part of the success can be attributed to the ‘Hello Weekend’ marketing campaign and the ‘Love Your Neighbourhood’ video series, which showcases city suburbs and encourages visitors to ‘travel like a local.’

“About 4.5% of the total workforce, more than are employed in the mining sector, are in tourism. For every R100 produced by the South African economy, R3.10 was as a result of tourism, or 3.1% of the economy. Agriculture only contributed R2.40 per R100, so tourism is bigger than agriculture.” Duminy said. The World Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017 lists International tourist arrivals at 8,903,773, with inbound tourist revenue calculated at US $8,234.7 million, or US $924.9 spent on average per arrival. This equates to US $9,339.9 million of the GDP and 702,824 jobs in the tourism industry employed. The competitiveness report ranks countries according to their performance on a variety of scores, including: international openness; prioritisation of travel and tourism; safety and security; price competitiveness; air transport infrastructure; ground and port infrastructure; tourist service infrastructure and cultural resources, amongst others. South Africa scored 53rd out of 136 in the 2017 global report, shifting from 4.1 in 2015 to an overall score of 4.0 in a 1 – 7 scale. According to the report, South Africa has improved price competitiveness by reducing ticket and hotel prices, but deteriorated on safety, security and environmental sustainability. Deforestation, loss of habitat and lack of government support to the sector resulted in a lower score.

A major contributing factor to poverty and crime in African countries stems from unemployment, with the unemployment rate in South Africa having risen to a staggering 27.7 percent in the first quarter of 2017. A growing tourism market undoubtedly creates jobs and it is now more important than ever for the collaboration of the public and private sector to foster sustainable tourism, community involvement, skills training, intra-Africa trade and visa openness. The African Union recently launched the AU passport, a unified, pan-African passport allowing visa-free movement of domestic tourists in all 54 AU-member countries. The initiative plans to roll out distribution of the electronic passport by 2018 and there is optimism that it will boost local tourism to South Africa. Sabre, the global travel technology provider, has indicated that African air travel spend is expected to increase by 24% with the introduction of the pan-African passport in 2018.

To grow the tourism sector and remain globally competitive, there should be a shift of focus to sustainability projects, not just in the form of environmentally-friendly eco-lodges but eco-tourism efforts aimed at adventure travellers with a purpose, while at the same time uplifting communities. Eco-travel promotes responsible tourism in an effort to conserve natural areas, minimise the tourism impact and sustain the well-being of local communities. Hands-on eco-tour experiences have developed the trend for volunteer travellers, or ‘volun-travellers’ to ‘work’ at an establishment and have the opportunity to get involved with various conservation efforts. Shamwari Game Reserve, in the Eastern Cape, pioneered a programme called, ‘The Shamwari Conservation Experience’, offering adventure-seeking travellers a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ to get hands-on experience in wildlife conservation and community work.

Volunteers arrive from around the globe and participate in various activities, from physical tasks to research and wildlife monitoring. The participation comes at a price, of course, and all funds received are used for conservation and sustainability of the project. There are a variety of companies now offering adventure experiences combined with conservation efforts, including ‘Worldwide Experience’, ‘Gap Africa Projects’ and ‘The Great Projects’ and this is a trend that is shifting travel incentives.The tourism industry not only provides employment for communities, but boosts local industries and allows a community to diversify their means of income. Tourism revenue is often referred to as having a multiplier effect, which refers to how many times money from tourists trickles down and circulates through the economy. For example, for every night that a tourist is checked into a game lodge in a remote part of Southern Africa, 14 people in the surrounding community indirectly benefit from the income generated. Many lodge staff send their earnings back home, further circulating the money into communities and helping to grow the local economy. Tourism is one industry, where money really does reach far into the community.

The National Treasury recently approved a R110 million injection to be put into the business events industry for the period of 2017 to 2020. The fund aims to attract more international events and delegates to South Africa and is part of South African Tourism’s “5 in 5” strategy – to attract five million additional leisure and business tourists in the next five years. Business travellers spend roughly three times more than leisure-seekers, and South Africa caters to this market with over 1000 premier conference venues. This number is set to rise as the National Conventions Bureau secures additional international conferences, which brings a constant supply of tourists and revenue.

The wellness travel trend is also set to change the way people travel, combining a safari experience with yoga, meditation and spirituality, coined ‘Wellness in the wilderness’ by Euromonitor International. Cape Town Tourism’s success in their online marketing campaign has proved that professionals in the tourism industry should utilise the global trend of using social media ambassadors and brand influencers to promote destinations via their social platforms. Millennials are now using their feeds to promote travel destinations and lifestyle aspirations that generate millions of followers – a trend that is growing and is here to stay.

South Africa is rich in cultural and heritage sites, with no less than eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Cradle of Humankind, the Western Cape’s Fynbos and Table Mountain, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Robben Island. Sporting events also attract huge international crowds and participators, such as the Cape Argus Cycle Race and the Comrades Marathon. After successfully hosting three world cup events – the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the 2003 Cricket World Cup and the 2010 FIFA World Cup, sport tourism is one of the fastest growing areas of the global travel and tourism industry, with 10% of tourists arriving in South Africa for sport events.

One competitive advantage to South Africa is that major cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town are among the world’s least expensive cities for expatriates, as rated by the Numbeo website on Cost of Living Index. The McKinsey Global Institute shows that groups of people within the retiring and elderly bracket in the developed world are expected to generate 19% of global urban consumption growth at $4.4trn, with an estimated population growing by more than one-third in number to 222 million people by 2030.

Those aged 60 and older are projected to grow healthcare spending by $1.4trn by 2030. When summarising the group’s per capita consumption per day, it is estimated at $39 000 per year. South Africa is poised to be the perfect location for retirement communities, with English as the universal language, low cost of living and a weak Rand against the Dollar meaning reduced living costs and maximising retirement fund returns. Temperate weather conditions, good private healthcare systems and excellent infrastructure will be a drawcard to this group. The introduction of an affordable retirement tourism sector will be a worthwhile investment for the tourism industry, which has traditionally focused on short-term tourist stays. Medical tourism is another segment with great potential for South Africa. The African Development Bank’s ‘Africa Tourism Monitor Report’ reports that medical migrants from other African countries to South Africa increased from 327 000 in 2006 to over 500 000 in 2009. The cost for medical procedures in South Africa is less expensive in comparison to neighbouring countries and tour operators are now offering packages including flights, relaxing itineraries and luxury accommodation in complete privacy on safari.

The travel industry is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world, and the lowering of travel barriers and rising middle class has opened doors to an entirely new market. Historically, the United States and Europe were the biggest source of travellers, but in future, Africa, Asia and the Middle East are set to have the biggest growth in this sector. Despite political and economic uncertainty in regions such as South Africa and Zimbabwe, along with global economic factors and changing visa regulations, tourism has continued to rise. With tourism providing a lifeline to many economies, government in Sub-Saharan countries have placed it as a priority in their planning and policy frameworks.

Successful implementation requires a commitment to infrastructure development and improving border regulations to allow travellers to move more freely and efficiently. Measures include e-visas, regional visa schemes and visa waiver programmes between key source markets, and combatting crime and corruption. It will be vital to promote the various tourist destinations to the correct target market combining global trends, and with developing countries becoming more attractive for visitors, Southern Africa will most certainly be ready to claim a piece of the pie.

This article was written by Nicole Leschinsky.

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