My jaw dropped when I recently heard that the Department of Home Affairs announced quite audaciously that inbound tourism numbers climbed between 4 and 7% during the last quarter of 2015. The first problem here is that we all know that these statistics take several months to be calculated and verified, and the second problem is that our inbound numbers should have been, quite literally, through the roof for December! Did you not hear the barmy army chanting “we’ve got 24 rand to the pound”, whilst glugging copious amounts of Castle Lager at 80 cents a pint.
South Africa should have been a no-brainer for any holiday-seeking traveller over the last 3 months. The exchange rate, Ebola, ISIS fears and terrorism across the West and Europe had us all anticipating a HUGE influx of overseas visitors into our country. South Africa was primed for a double figure increase in inbound tourism. However, on the opposite side of the coin (pardon the pun), we as South Africans found ourselves gasping at the mere thought of gulping a beer at R700 a pop across the ocean somewhere. Even the wealthiest jet setters would pause before taking an overseas holiday at such an unfavourable exchange rate.
Which got me thinking…
Our tourism industry suffered something very similar in days gone by. During the apartheid era and particularly in the eighties, the rest of the world placed sanctions on South Africa, forcing the hospitality industry to rely on local tourists to fill up beds, restaurants and airlines. This led to the emergence of the likes of Protea Hotels, Sun City and Thompsons Tour Operators as South Africans were forced to holiday locally.
What we also discovered during these times is that holidaying locally is fantastic in so many ways. South Africa (and Africa for that matter) has so much to offer for leisure and business travellers. I truly believe that South African Tourism bodies, organisations and officials need to rally together in a concerted effort to market both local and neighbouring destinations to the South African tourist. Millions of Rands are spent luring overseas visitors into this country. We attend Travel Shows all over the world punting our country to the Americas, Europe and the East, only to be stifled with changing visa restrictions and confusion in the market and yet we have a ‘captive’ and captivated audience right under our noses!
Returning from a launch event at BON Hotel Swakopmund last week confirmed this. Take Namibia for example: our neighbour and almost an extra province of South Africa offers a fantastic family holiday. Access is no problem with daily flights into Walvis Bay and Windhoek, or even better, the Namib-Cape route is an amazing road trip for any family!
If one has to look at exotic travel options for South Africans on our current exchange rate, we have limited choice for value – perhaps Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia or even Mauritius at a push. South Africans need to be reminded by the tourism industry of the fantastic places right under our noses and within our borders. We need to cater to our local travellers, making the most of the fact that the unfortunate exchange rate actually creates an exciting new market for hospitality service providers – our locals!
No, we shouldn’t be jacking up prices because the exchange rate is so high or upping our menus to suit the overseas market. Let’s provide our people with the best packages and options for exploring and enjoying our very own country.
Let everybody find delight in staying within our border, colouring in between our own beautiful lines.