‘Take me for a trip upon your magic swirling ship…’Bob Dylan: Mr Tambourine Man; 1965
September is Tourism Month, and in terms of the South African economy, it’s a subject well worth focussing on. Internationally the Covid-19 pandemic has been an absolute nightmare for all economies, with tourism taking a battering from restrictions on travel. Just focussing on South Africa, the contribution to our GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, dropped from close to 8% in 2019 to just over 3% last year. Although these are single digit figures when expressed as percentages, when translated into monetary terms the loss amounts to a great deal of money. Consider this: in 2018 the actual rand figure generated by tourism amounted to R130 billion. Figures for 2019 were fractionally higher, but the hard lockdown was a disaster for 2020: the volume of tourists decreased by 72,6% from 10,2 million in 2019 to 2,8 million in 2020, and the tourism income generated took a corresponding plunge.
It’s 2021. Covid-19 may not have been defeated, but it’s certainly on the run. Watching sport in South Africa is still limited to television viewing, but it’s heartening to observe international stadiums in countries that took vaccination seriously: they are packed to the rafters, and the statistics continue to show a decrease in reported Covid cases. From a sea of Max Verstappen supporting orange shirted enthusiasts at the Dutch Zandvoort Grand Prix to crazily outfitted supporters at the England versus India cricket test series, it’s obvious that the world is relaxing and tourism will rise again. In South Africa, it’s not only a comforting thought, it’s a R130 billion pay check that is vital to our economy. Bearing in mind that 4.5% of all employees in the country work in some way with tourism, it’s crucial that we all work towards recovering the status quo.
The World Tourism Organization defines tourism as people ‘traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year and not less than 24 hours for leisure, business and other purposes.’ That’s a broad definition, but it doesn’t even touch on the reach that tourism has. Since 2012, last year excluded, the number of international tourists travelling globally has exceeded one billion individuals. That’s a thousand million people who have travelled across borders for one reason or another. Suddenly our 10.2 million highpoint of travellers looks rather small, but the Tourism Board sees it as an opportunity, and why not? South Africa has a range of tourist attractions that can compete with any country on the planet, and all we need to do it make them known.
Tourism has been around, in one form or another, since as long ago as 1500 BCE. Romans travelled to seaside resorts and spas such as Baiae, on the Gulf of Naples. Egyptians were great travellers too, but then again, if you didn’t live on the Nile, you probably got tired of sandstorms. The Ancient Chinese travelled extensively as well, but mostly for religious purposes to sites like the Five Sacred Mountains. Tourism wasn’t really tourism in those early times, it was travel. It was only in the Middle Ages when Christians, Buddhists and followers of Islam regulated their travels in the form of pilgrimages, that communities en route began to see the advantages of providing way stations allowing pilgrims to rest on their journeys.
The word tourist was only coined in 1772, and tourism followed in 1811. The etymology is rather odd: it stems from the ancient Greek ‘tornos’, which means a ‘lathe’; through Latin ‘tornare’, ‘to turn on a lathe’ to the Olde English ‘turian’ – a turn – to the latter day ‘tour’. You can fill in the blanks yourself as far as the mutation from turning wood to touring the world came about. (Try not to think about ‘tornado’, which suddenly becomes obvious.) A far better explanation comes from Dr. R. Uma Devi, writing in the Evaluative Study of Tourism Industry: The word ‘Tourism’ as derived from the term ‘TOUR’ means a journey from place to place or time to be spent at a station or rambling excursion.’ The good doctor doesn’t bother to explain TOUR.
The well-to-do British and European students of the 17th century are probably responsible for what came to be known as ‘leisure tourism’, although their Grand Tours (as they were known then) around Europe were ostensibly a rite of passage for sons of the Landed Gentry. They swanned around the ancient monuments, drank wine and absinthe on the boulevards of thriving cities and wrote bad poetry about their experiences. Cox and Kings were the first travel company who took note, and they started facilitating travel arrangements. Before long Thomas Cook (and his sons) as well as a few other enterprising companies joined the burgeoning travel industry, and leisure tourism was born. Not only the wealthy aristocrats but the growing middle class started venturing on guided tours and the world has not been the same since.
These days tourism is defined by three classes – mass tourism, niche tourism and winter tourism, all of which is still largely Northern Hemisphere-centric. But within those categories lie a wealth of sub-tourism headings: eighteen at a rough count, including sports tourism, ecotourism, religious tourism, event tourism, educational tourism, social tourism etc. Even, thanks to a few billionaires with too much money and time on their hands, space tourism. At Waterfront Charters we don’t mind which category brings the visitors back to our shores, as long as they treat themselves to a V&A Waterfront visit and a superb Waterfront Charters cruise. Eco-adventure or pure relaxation; private or business charters (NB! 30% off if you book this month!); sailing adventure or harbour tour – we’ve got the lot.
In line with worldwide trends, we’ve made viewing and booking our cruises super-easy and efficient through online portals, so we encourage all guests to make use of these handy facilities. And we are all working together in the industry to encourage tourists to return to this magnificent country; a cruise with us is the cherry on top!