It is sometimes speculated that the origin of township tourism started when an enterprising person started hosting tours in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for those tourists who wanted to experience the notorious favelas. Fast forward a few decades and township tourism has become a legitimate and accepted way for tourists to break away from luxury 5-star hotels, albeit for some hours, and go on guided tours through some of the lesser known parts of world cities. In Africa, cities such as Cape Town, Johannesburg and Lagos – are well known for different reasons, yet all of these cities and others globally offer a glimpse into the other side of life, where tourists can see, experience and even socialise with residents of a township, in relative safety. Vilakazi Street in Soweto, Johannesburg is famous and boasts a number of night spots and restaurants where tourists can mingle and get astute of local township life. Cape Town offers Langa, Khayelitsha and Gugulethu, which mostly offer guided tours in the form of walks or cycle rides through various sections, exposing a totally different way of life that international tourists have been exposed to. However, commercialising township tourism extends beyond merely being a voyeur activity for the tourist. “There are certain ways to make township tourism commercially viable. For instance, we know that residents didn’t like that tourists would only drive through the township looking on from their bus windows. We designed something called township visits in conjunction with anthropologists from the Universities of…

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Researcher for the STATS SA has conducted their survey on the most visited tourists coming to South Africa. Which I must say, is applauding at the kind of positive feedback.

The StatsSA shows a frequency between May 2018-May 2019 and a successful growth keeps ranging the top seats. This is absolutely good news for the South Africans as the stats show significant growth by 1.5% from last year.

Although the media may have speculated on recent negative reports, South Africa still does demonstrate in attracting a lot of tourists and aims to continue in growing its mandate.

The stats for International tourist visiting South Africa are as follows:

The 10 International tourists constituted of 75.5% of all tourists from overseas countries.

  1. United States of America (USA): 35 699 (21.5%)
  2. United Kingdom (UK): 21 834 (13.1%)
  3. India: 13 238 (8.0%)
  4. Germany: 11 827 (7.1%)
  5. France: 11 142 (6.7%)
  6. Australia: 8 825 (5.3%)
  7. China: 7 259 (4.4%)
  8. The Netherlands: 5 782 (3.5%)
  9. Brazil: 5 149 (3.1%)
  10. Canada: 4 771 (2.9%)

The stats for African tourists visiting South Africa include:

The 10 African tourists constituted of 97.9% of all tourists from the African continent.

  1. Zimbabwe: 168 046 (29.3%)
  2. Lesotho: 121 426 (21.2%)
  3. Mozambique: 106 341 (18.5%)
  4. Swaziland: 75 161 (13.1%)
  5. Botswana: 51 668 (6.8%)
  6. Namibia: 14 682 (2.6%)
  7. Malawi: 12 853 (2.2%)
  8. Zambia: 11 527 (2.0%)
  9. Angola: 5 090 (0.9%)
  10. Nigeria: 3 597 (0.7%)

These stats show the magnificent growth in the SA tourism and with these stats it can clearly also indicate on who are the most visited tourists.

  • 56.2% of tourists were male and 43.8% of them were female.
  • It’s the millennial and the mid-lifers who are propping up tourism in South Africa. The majority of tourists were aged between 35 and 44 years (29.4%), followed closely by the age group 25 to 34 years (27.9%)
  • Of all the foreign visitors, 97% of them came purely for a holiday. 2.4% travelled on business, with 0.5% of them coming here to study. Around one in a thousand travellers come to South Africa for medical treatments.
  • We are a big fan of this: Just two people managed to make the journey from St Helena to South Africa- in an entire year.

So, in all certainty, we are safe to say that, we are doing the mere least correct stuff if we are not losing that much of tourists wanting to visit the beautiful motherland.

In recent years, the hospitality industry has been affected by factors out of its control. Technological advances, environmental issues and changing tourist tastes have forced the industry to continually adapt.

It is for these reasons that the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA) has recently augmented its grading criteria by adding three new categories: apartment hotels, small hotels and boutique hotels.

This review of the grading system and criteria ensures South Africa businesses are internationally benchmarked and competitive as a destination. In addition, any changes must be relevant to the South African context and market.  In South Africa in recent years, we have seen an upsurge in both new-build apartment hotels as well as more intimate and unique boutique hotels. We need to ensure we have the categorization to respond to these new developments.

Consider the impact technological enhancements have on the hospitality sector and the overall guest experience. For instance, the provision of and access to WiFi is fast becoming a very basic need and guest prerequisite at any category of accommodation. As this has happened, the TGCSA requirements for these categories has had to remain current and relevant.

Technological impact

Technology is impacting various guest services and guest interactions, both before arrival and whilst in-house. One of the biggest developments in the newly released grading criteria amendments in the formal hotel categories, is the amendment to the requirement for the provision of landline telephones in hotel bedrooms. 

It is no longer a requirement to have a fixed line telephone in a hotel, according to our new 2019 grading standards. This is because of the amazing tech developments which allow guests to connect with the hotel service outlets using new platforms and applications as well as the ability to make outgoing calls using applications linked to the provision of WiFi.

Responsible tourism accolade

South Africa has in recent months had to deal with a number of environmental issues that have directly affected our tourism fraternity.

We are of the opinion that limiting the impact of tourism on the environment is in the interest of all concerned and it was on this premise that the TCGSA undertook to include an accolade to recognise properties that have adopted and are practising Responsible Tourism practices.

The TGCSA criteria for the Accolade for Responsible Tourism were sourced from the existing South African National Standard SANS 1162 for Responsible Tourism Standards.

What travel agents should consider

The category and the star-grading level awarded to properties annually are by far the most important points for travel agents when recommending an establishment to a customer. This indicates the type of product that will be encountered as well as the levels of product quality, variety of facilities and service standards to be expected by your guests.

The TGCSA is fortunate to have over 5 200 properties graded across the country so variety and availability should seldom be an issue. The TGCSA reviews the grading status of our members annually and it is thus also important to ensure that the property you are booking has a valid TGCSA grading certificate with an expiration date in the future.

TGCSA Roadshow

The TGCSA hosted a Roadshow across all nine provinces in South Africa to showcase our enhancements to the grading system and accolades. We were overwhelmed with the positive sentiment and support from both our graded establishment members and the tourism stakeholder community at our Roadshow sessions. 

There is much excitement regarding the new categories, the new star-grading level – 5 Star PREMIUM and the new accolade recognition mechanism, which are by far the most talked about developments.  The TGCSA is excited to implement these enhancements and allow our members to benefit from the new standards and differentiation value proposition.

Following a rigorous grading system review process and the well supported Roadshow events in all nine provinces, it has become very evident that the TGCSA is on the right track!  We are invigorated to see that our contribution, through the provision of our world-class grading system, continues to assist trade in improving the collective positioning of South Africa as a quality destination and a leading player on the global stage.

South African Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr Bulelani Magwanishe has received the assurance of the Tunisian business people that they are keen and committed to the establishment of the joint South Africa-Tunisia Business Council with the aim of stimulating trade and investment between the two countries. Magwanishe used the second day of the Outward Trade and Investment Mission to Tunisia organised by the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) to visit several Tunisian business associations in Tunis.

“We are in Tunisia with a business delegation for the trade and investment mission and what stuck out like a sore thumb throughout our interaction with both the country’s business and government leaders since our arrival is the disconcertingly low levels of trade and investment between the two countries. As government we recognise that the critical stakeholders that are in a position to change the status quo that we are worried about are businesspeople from South Africa and Tunisia. This is the reason why we have embarked on a serious engagement with the Tunisian private sector so that we can get the ball rolling to bring them in contact with their South African counterparts in order to do business,” said Magwanishe.

During the meetings, Tunisian business associations expressed their desire and keenness to work with the South African business chambers and associations to contribute in increasing trade and investment between SA and Tunisia. They all indicated that the starting point would be the establishment of a joint business council that would facilitate interaction and exchange of information among the businesspeople with the aim of identifying opportunities to jointly explore for investment and trade purposes. Magwanishe said the council would not only be focusing on trade and investment only but will also facilitate skills transfer, industrialisation and infrastructure development.

“We are amenable to the idea of establishing a joint business council as the first priority. Our association wants to forge relations with companies in South Africa through cooperation with the local business associations or chambers there. We have member companies that have invested in other countries and we are confident that they will be interested in investing in South Africa as well if we manage to set up the appropriate platforms and connections that will enable us to share information on what is available there in South Africa in terms of investment and trade opportunities,” said the Board Member of the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handcrafts, Mr Abdesalem Loued during his meeting with Magwanishe.

Our association wants to forge relations with companies in South Africa through cooperation with the local business associations or chambers there

 The President of the Tunis Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Mr Mournir Mouakhar also gave his association’s commitment to mobilise its members work towards increasing his country’s trade and investment with SA.

“We support the formation of a business council that we will use as a vehicle to promote trade and investment, but we are looking at a sector-specific approach as a starting point of identifying investment and trade opportunities that we can explore together.  We are also looking at the development of business relations among South African, Tunisian and French companies. The fact that Tunisia has become a member of Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa means that businesspeople in the two regions will be able to work closely together and contribute in stimulating intra-Africa trade and investment,” added Mouakhar.

The President of the Tunisia-Africa Business Council, Mr Bassem Loukil said opportunities were available for Tunisian and South African companies to explore together in the automotive, pharmaceutical, agriculture and tourism sectors of the Tunisian economy.

“Our focus is on the intra-African trade and investment as well as assisting African companies expand their market to Europe. We are excited about the proposed structure that will bring us closer to the South African businesspeople in order for us to work together and increase trade and investment amongst the African Continent,” added Loukil.

This is the question many people across the South African tourism industry have begged answers for, against the African tourism giant experiencing unusual low tourism arrivals.

Predictable, for a country that in recent times has seen millions of visitors from both traditional and emerging source markets descending on South Africa to experience a combination of man-made and natural wonders, dotting its length and breadth. Many outsiders arriving in the country on business trips, especially those unaware of the country’s infrastructural facilities and standards, comparable with the first world, returned to their homes with lasting impressions to tell remarkable stories of world class development. However, despite the reputation of its famed allure, South Africa’s tourism industry began to experience gloom. That reality left the tourism industry fraternity struggling with the situation. Industry business owners and executives who had become accustomed to brisk business and massive profits were experiencing sleepless nights.

Update on Newly Relaxed SA Visa Regulations
The low tourism statistics were attributed to the visa regulation passed in 2015. It required parents to carry unabridged birth certificates for accompanying children, as well as letters of permission from parents that were not travelling. Concerns were ardently raised by most tourism industry players. They pointed out that the South African government’s decision to introduce unfriendly visa regulations was largely to blame for “hurting” tourism businesses. Amid loud outcries, the ruling hit the tourism industry hard, threatening its vibrancy and viability.

The fact that global entertainer and British actor Idris Elba’s daughter was a victim of the new requirement further amplified the calls to revisit the entry prerequisite. To avert further escalation of the crisis, an intervention was needed, to save the industry from further decline and job losses. Tourism Business Council South Africa (TBCSA) say that the tourism industry, which employs more than 1.5 million people has been identified by the government as one of the sectors that are potential growth engines and that can lift the South African economy out of the recession, by creating jobs and reducing high unemployment. The industry generates about R400 billion ($28 billion) estimated at 10% of its GDP. Therefore, the South African Government could not pretend to be blind to the negative impact of a law hurting its wealthy economy.

“Allowing applications via courier means it will be much easier for potential travellers to obtain a visa, and we are confident that this will increase tourist numbers from some of our most important untapped source markets.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s then announced amendments as part of a broader economic turnaround strategy focused on moving the African continent’s most advanced economy out of a slump. Then Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba reportedly expressed the need to relax some immigration rules. This covered the inclusion of visa waiver agreements with additional source markets, all geared at improving investment into the country and tourism. That was a prudent move, considering his department is responsible for about 10 million visitors, including tourists, business travellers, investors and neighbours. Visitors from all over the world, including significant growth source markets like China and India were to enjoy newly regulated travel policies that offer them access to 5-year multiple entry documents.

The two Asian countries would have people travelling for business and to invest, enjoy arrangements, where 10-year visas would be processed in just 5 days. Furthermore, changes covered a three-year, multiple visa for frequent, trusted travellers to SA and a 10-year visa for African region business people and academics. Waiver accords for visitors from the continent, as well as other regions like the Middle East and Eastern Europe and countries like Qatar, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were also included as well as selected categories of visitors from African countries like Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. The new visa move was made to unlock uninhibited interest and to come into effect from October were designed to see tourists coming to South Africa in increasing numbers.

Tourism industry response to the relaxed visa
As is usual in such situations, leading tourism industry experts and organisations then sprung into action.
Tim Haris, CEO at Wesgro Tourism, Trade and Investment said that his organisation welcomed the amendments as ease of travel and movement across borders is a fundamental building block of the global economy. “The relaxed visa regulations include a number of measures that will boost tourism,” he said. He pointed out several things such as, for example, relaxing the requirement for travellers to apply for a visa in person in countries like China and India will make a very big difference to ease of travel for visitors from these countries, as will long-term multiple entry visas. The other factor he mentioned was that since 2014, travellers from countries that require a visa for South Africa have had to travel to a South African visa application centre in person in order to apply: In large countries this meant travelling very far distances just to obtain a visa, discouraging potential tourists. “Allowing applications via courier means it will be much easier for potential travellers to obtain a visa, and we are confident that this will increase tourist numbers from some of our most important untapped source markets”, he said.

China and India were to enjoy newly regulated travel policies that offer them access to 5-year multiple entry documents. The two Asian countries would have people travelling for business and to invest, enjoy arrangements where 10-year visas would be processed in just 5 days.

Mr Haris further explained that effective implementation will be the greatest challenge. He referred to the relaxation of documentary requirements for foreigners travelling to South Africa with minors as having the potential to have a much needed positive impact on travel to the country, especially family travel. However, he also suggested this will require specialised training for airport security and boarder controls operating at these posts. “The level of success, however, will be entirely dependent on how it is put into practice. The changes will need to be executed in a manner that avoids confusion and encourages certainty for potential travellers to South Africa. “These measures are ‘quick wins’, they are simple and quick to implement and do not require significant resources to put into effect. The measures do ease travel for many visitors, and will improve tourism numbers; however we see these amendments as a first step in the right direction. There is still a lot more that needs to be done, and to truly boost numbers and maximise the economic development potential of tourism it is going to take a concerted national effort,” he said.

Professor Ciná van Zyl, Acting COD: Department of Entrepreneurship, Supply Chain, Transport, Tourism and Logistics Management, College of Economic and Management Sciences, UNISA weighed in, saying: “According to reports, the dropping of the visa requirement for Russian citizens resulted in an immediate increase in arrivals from that country by 25%. Iran, Saudia Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Qatar are among the most promising markets for which the visa requirement will reportedly be waived.”

She explained that the most important change is the easing of the process for application and its impact on the two large markets of China and India but noted that this however, remains to be seen how it would work out in practice and whether the requirement to be able to prove parental consent in the case of travelling minors remains an obstacle.


These measures are “quick wins”, they are simple and quick to implement and do not require significant resources to put into effect. The measures do ease travel for many visitors, and will improve tourism numbers; however we see these amendments as a first step in the right direction. There is still a lot more that needs to be done, and to truly boost numbers and maximise the economic development potential of tourism it is going to take a concerted national effort.”

“Moving towards an electronic visa system, to be trialed for New Zealand citizens from April 2019 is a positive step and South Africans themselves will benefit from the introduction of electronic passport control systems to ease their way through airports,” she added. Her observation was that in general, relaxing visa regulations has excellent potential for increasing tourist arrivals in South Africa, but it is not clear whether the new proposed regulations go far enough.

“The new regulations appear to ease all aspects of obtaining permission to visit South Africa, but it is possible that challenges will arise related to the e-visa application process in New Zealand and in training airline and immigration staff to accept the e-visa. “If we look at South Africa’s tourist arrivals, compared to those of Thailand (for example) the trends over the past five years have been similar, although South Africa’s are more seasonal (source: Trading Economics). Although the regulations about travelling minors and the visa requirement for New Zealanders have impacted on arrivals, I do not think the impact has been huge and I do not expect the latest regulations to do much more that reverses this modest change,” she said. Asked whether government’s move was adequate to realise high tourist arrivals, her response was that a huge impact will be achieved only if the application process becomes very easy for major markets such as China, India or Nigeria (possibly even using the e-visa) or even if a further relaxation waives the visa requirement for those countries. At the same time, she was concerned that the changes do not go far enough to provide a major boost to tourist arrivals.

“At the moment, the majority of recorded tourist arrivals are from the SADC countries (mainly Zimbabwe and Lesotho) and the traditional Western tourism markets. The Netherlands (population 17 million) still sends more tourists than China (population 1, 4 billion) to South Africa, for example,” she further said. Professor Van Zyl further highlighted that the major source of overseas arrivals remains the old colonial power, the UK and to properly capture the tourism demand in the rapidly developing countries of Africa and Asia will require more far-reaching changes. Today, Australia welcomes 18 times more tourists from China than South Africa does and therefore for South Africa, the target should be to at least equal that. TBCSA acknowledged steps taken by government, however adding that the industry still had a very long way to go on easing immigration regulations. CEO of the TBCSA, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa in a statement said “We, as the industry, are and have been ready to come to the table to grow the economy, create jobs and assist with transformation, but we need the government to allow us the space to do that.

Therefore, we welcome the progress in visa waivers for selected countries, but we need this to happen quickly with the holiday season fast approaching. ”He stressed that the issue of unabridged birth certificate for minors travelling is still a huge concern for the industry. “We raised this issue four years ago and we have engaged with government on the negative impact of these regulations, we further asked the department of Home Affairs to share with us the statistics on child trafficking through international airports, which never happened. We have said from the very beginning that unabridged birth certificates have created a large barrier for tourism in and out of South Africa.

“The (government) announcement doesn’t change anything; Home Affairs is once again circling around this issue. We want this regulation to be completely removed to re-encourage the movement of people into South Africa if we are serious about creating jobs”, commented Mr. Tshivhengwa. “President Ramaphosa, through his stimulus package, recognised tourism as one of the key sectors in stimulating the economy and creating jobs. What was announced by the Minister of Home Affairs is still the same policy that will not grow tourism. We need bold moves to fully remove regulatory barriers and not endless discussion”, added Mr. Tshivhengwa.

He said that off the back of the President’s announcement of pending amendments to these regulations, many have come out to strongly criticise the lack of action in this regard.

“The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) has also been left frustrated and disappointed by the President’s failure to directly address the known issues at hand,” further noted the TBCSA statement. It also mentioned that the Association of Southern African Travel Agencies (ASATA) CEO, Otto De Vries, was familiar with the challenges. “The controversial requirement for travelling families has stifled outbound tourism, as it is making it difficult for local families to travel internationally. Why would you continue to apply a policy that will hamper and frustrate them?” De Vries said. De Vries summed up his statement by saying, “South Africa’s government needs to remove the requirement for travel with an unabridged birth certificate for all passport holders.”

Tshivhengwa has echoed these sentiments, and have questioned the lack of urgent and genuine action by the South African Government. He has been stern in stating what the country needs to bolster the economy from a tourism point of view. Tshivhengwa expressed that tourism is ready to and can play a key role in boosting the country’s economy, if the correct measures are put in place. In the same statement by the TBCSA, CEO of Southern African Tourism Services Association (SATSA), David Frost expressed his frustration with the Minister’s announcement saying his organisation has long been at the forefront of one of the pioneering campaigns to abolish the need to carry unabridged birth certificates since its inception in 2015.

We, as the industry, are and have been ready to come to the table to grow the economy, create jobs and assist with transformation, but we need the government to allow us the space to do that. Therefore, we welcome the progress in visa waivers for selected countries, but we need this to happen quickly with the holiday season fast approaching.”

The TBCSA noted that South Africa is faced with a difficult economic condition with declining economic growth, tourism arrival declining, and tourism business confidence at its lowest for years. “Removing these immigration barriers will go a long way in increasing tourist arrivals, increase employment, and contribute positively to the economy” said Tshivhengwa.

“As the TBCSA, we remain open to having a robust discussion to move this economy forward.” The head of TBCSA also voiced his concern at the need to avoid self-inflicted entry regulations that were benefiting other countries at the expense of South Africa and as a result thought that it was important for the new regulations to be put in place as a matter of urgency. Perhaps time will tell whether the strategies prescribed by government will be effective in bringing back the good old days to South African tourism.