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TThanks to South Africans, Domestic Tourism is Rising from the Pandemic's Ashes
As we mark the end of Tourism Month and enter our summer season, South Africa’s Tourism Minister, Patricia de Lille recognizes domestic tourism as the bedrock of the South African tourism industry and adds that South Africans should be applauded for the recovery that the domestic tourism market has shown.
In 2020, South Africa, like the rest of the world, faced the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only was this a health crisis, but it also had crippling effects on the various economic sectors. Arguably, tourism was one of the industries most brutally affected. With countries closing their borders as the movement of people was seen as a vector for the virus, the industry ground to a near halt.
In the face of such adversity, South Africans showed remarkable resilience by breathing new life into domestic tourism. And for that, we extend a heartfelt 'thank you'.
Domestic tourism in South Africa has been nothing short of a phoenix rising from the ashes. In the first half of 2023, South Africans took 18.8 million domestic overnight trips up 23.4% over the same period in 2022. Overnight spend was also up by 21.2% to reach R52.2 billion between January and June 2023 when compared to the same time in 2022. South Africans spent 65.7 million nights away from home and this was up 24.4% when compared to the first half of 2022. The average length of stay per trip increased slightly by 0.7% in January to June 2023 period.
This renewed focus on domestic travel brings an array of benefits to South Africa. It acts as a safeguard against the unpredictability and volatilities of international tourism.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) says countries with a strong domestic tourism sector are poised for a quicker and more robust recovery. This has been true for South Africa which has also seen phenomenal growth in international arrivals which totalled close to 5.5 million in the eight seven months of 2023.
Domestic tourism provides a much-needed boost to local economies, indirectly elevating employment rates and contributing to poverty alleviation. Furthermore, this market fosters pride in our local attractions and creates ambassadors who promote these destinations.
South Africa is rich in destinations that highlight the beauty of its landscapes, vegetation and animals, including internationally acclaimed game reserves and heritage sites.
While these major attractions have always been popular, the renewed emphasis on domestic tourism is drawing attention to lesser-visited areas like townships and rural villages. These offer immersive experiences to travellers and are rich in history.
For example, in the Kwa Zulu-Natal province, one can embark on the Inanda, Ntuzuma KwaMashu (INK) Heritage Trail which includes Mahatma Gandhi's Phoenix Settlement, the Ohlange Institute, where Nelson Mandela cast his vote in 1994, and ends with a visit to the Shembe Church in Ebuhleni which is the headquarters of one of the biggest churches in Africa.
Soweto in the Gauteng Province offers a rich tapestry of resistance history through sites such as the Hector Peterson memorial alongside modern-day adventures like bungee jumping off the Soweto towers and in modern tourism, the focus is shifting towards responsible and sustainable travel. Visitors increasingly seek experiences that go beyond mere photo opportunities, desiring instead to understand history and contribute to meaningful change. This is particularly true for tourism in townships and rural areas, where tours in these areas are in the main led by local residents.
The trend towards responsible tourism aligns well with this year's United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) theme for World Tourism Day: Tourism and Green Investments. This theme urges us to invest in tourist destinations in ways that directly benefit local communities. It's encouraging to note that tourists are increasingly looking for such sustainable options, as this ensures that the benefits of tourism are shared more equitably.
Working with the industry we will continue supporting various initiatives that encourage South Africans to explore their country. As South Africans, we have taken the challenges posed by the pandemic and turned them into opportunities for growth and unity.
Thank you, South Africa, for being adventurous travellers and, in doing so, sustaining an industry that so many livelihoods depend upon.
Whether we are tourism establishment owners or restaurant owners and staff. Let us continue to treat people the way we want to be treated and let us respect, love and let the spirit of Ubuntu lead us.
By opening our hearts and doors, we not only enrich our nation’s cultural tapestry but also sustain and uplift countless lives within our vibrant communities. The remarkable resurgence of domestic tourism serves as a testament to our resilience and adaptability.
De Lille is the Minister of Tourism in South Africa.