‘Presently, tourism is not a fringe activity but a mass and highly complicated field because of its economic, socio-cultural and political ramification.’A. K. Raina in: Ecology, Wildlife and Tourism Development: Principles, Practices and Strategies; 2005
September 2020 is International Tourism Month, and this year it comes at a very poignant time for a beleaguered world. There are probably many who question the idea of a month dedicated to tourism when the industry of the country as a whole has taken a pounding due to lockdown and other restrictions forced on us by Covid-19. However, at Waterfront Charters we are obviously fully supportive of the initiative, and we think it’s important that tourism be recognised as the driving economic force it can be (and has been), rather than just a ‘recreational’ industry that lives on the side-lines of the hard-working, hard-pressed people who keep the country’s industries running.
Some facts and figures will help to put things into perspective. We will quote 2018 statistics for the simple reason that both 2019 and 2020 have been compromised. Had there not been a pandemic, it’s safe to predict that the growth in the tourism industry would have continued unabated. 2018 registered 1.4 billion international tourist arrivals; that’s a staggering 3.8 million arrivals per day. These international travellers spent an estimated minimum of 1.7 trillion dollars, or in South African terms, around 34 trillion rand.
There are many, many countries who can only dream of figures like that as a working economy – us included. International tourism, up until the end of last year, had a nine year run of sustained growth, averaging around 5% increase a year. When your baseline is already high, that makes for substantial numbers. You will note that these figures only include international expenditure; obviously a thriving local tourist industry will add impetus to a positive economy; even if the rand is being recycled, as it were. The provision of employment opportunities is a vital cog in our society: tourism added over 40 000 jobs from 2014 to 2018, at a time when general industry shed over 125 000 jobs.
The tourism sector’s 686 596 employees outnumber the respective workforces of utilities (118 000 employees) and mining (444 000 employees); that gives an idea of how important to our economy a thriving tourism industry is. As a matter of fact – a startling fact – the tourism industry in South Africa contributed 2.9% of the GDP in 2018: more than agriculture. It makes you think, doesn’t it?
The World Tourism Organisation, which is responsible for garnering and publishing tourism statistics and annual reports, is emphatic when it comes to the benefits of tourism: a strong economy drives tourism, and their Big Picture can be quoted in full – ‘sustainability and competitiveness go hand in hand as destinations and businesses can become more competitive through the efficient use of resources, the promotion of biodiversity conservation and actions to tackle climate change.’ We can add to that the management of the current Covid-19 virus, which has effectively challenged the status quo – for now. But there is room for growth: South Africa as a tourist destination has it all.
From National Parks to spectacular mountains and beaches; a multi-cultural democracy that is showing the way in Africa. First world facilities interlaced with beautiful open spaces and stunning wildlife. And yet: we do not feature anywhere near the top 10 in arrivals or tourism receipts.
France (surprisingly) is the number one destination with 89 million visitors a year, followed by Spain with 83 million and the USA at 82 million. South Africa in the same year? 1.7 million. It doesn’t take an economist to figure out that if we simply double that figure our economy will receive an enormous boost. And why stop there?
We don’t want to take over the number one spot, but considering what we have to offer, South Africa should be far higher on the destination list than we sit currently. Arguing that our geographical position mitigates against tourism doesn’t hold water either: Australia, as far south as us (and full of empty desert), holds seventh place in international tourism earnings. If they can do it, so can we: all it needs is focus, determination and presenting a positive picture of our amazing attractions to the world.
The South African Tourism Industry has set a theme of Tourism and Rural Development for the next twelve months (at least), as a way of involving the more marginal areas, smaller communities and off the beaten path local attractions. These can only add to the incredible variety on offer here in our land, and will play an enormous part in uplifting these communities.
Waterfront Charters are part of the tourism industry, and we pride ourselves on thirty years of service. Our cruises, our boats, our crews and our team are all integrated into the dreams and aspirations of South African society, conservation, marketing and growth. Join us in the post-lockdown world on one of our amazing cruises; we will show you an aspect of South Africa that every tourist on the planet should be privileged to view!