SA tourism industry struggles amidst COVID-19 pandemic

According to the Tourism, 2020 report released by Statistics South Africa, foreign arrivals dropped by 71% from just over 15, 8million in 2019 to less than 5 million in 2020. It is evident that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the tourism industry quite hard around the world and in South Africa, mainly due to the lockdown and travel restrictions that were imposed.
According to the report, the overall number of travellers (arrivals and departures) decreased by 71,0% between 2019 and 2020. The overall number of travellers decreased by 50,7% over a 15-year period from nearly 24,6 million recorded in 2006 to 12,1 million travellers recorded in 2020.


In South Africa, the direct contribution of the tourism sector to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was 130,1 billion rand in 2018 and constituted nearly 3% direct contribution to GDP.1 In 2018, the tourism sector contributed about 4,5% of total employment in South Africa.1
In 2020, the volume of tourists decreased by 72,6% from 10,2 million in 2019 to 2,8 million in 2020. The distribution of tourists by region of residence shows that 74,8% of the tourists who arrived in South Africa in 2020 were residents of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries and 1, 5% were from ‘other’ African countries. These two sub-regions constituted a total of 76,3% tourists from Africa. Residents of overseas countries made up 23,6% of the tourists.


The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the South African tourism industry. On the 16th of March 2020, President Ramaphosa announced measures to combat the spread of COVID -19 in South Africa. These measures were in line with reducing and monitoring inward as well as departing travellers. In addition, a travel ban on selected foreign nationals from high-risk countries into SA was communicated on 18 March 2020. Of the 53 land ports, 35 were shut down, as well as 2 of the 8 sea ports. The Level 5 (hard) lockdown introduced by President Ramaphosa on the 26th of March 2020 resulted in tourism numbers dropping drastically for both incoming and outgoing travellers. In light of this, South Africa did not receive visitors for a period of six months from April to September 2020.
In 2020, tourists from the United Kingdom topped the overseas visitor list. When comparing the 2020 volumes with the 2019 volumes, the number of tourists decreased in all ten leading overseas countries. Australia had the largest percentage decrease of visitors to SA (81,4%).


All ten leading SADC countries showed a decrease in the number of tourists from 2019 to 2020. Botswana had the largest percentage decrease of 80,6%. Zimbabwe remained the leading SADC country in terms of tourist visits.


Nigeria was the leading country for tourists from ‘Other’ African countries. A comparison between 2019 and 2020 volumes indicates that the number of tourists decreased in all ten leading countries. Côte d’Ivoire had the largest percentage decrease of 77,4%.


Overall, holiday continued to be the main reason for visits to South Africa. A large majority (96,0%) of tourists came for holidays whilst business persons, students and medical treatment constituted 3,1%, 0,9% and 0,1% respectively of the 2020 tourists. In 2020, tourists from overseas and ‘other’ African countries spent, on average, seven and five days per month respectively in South Africa, compared to tourists from SADC who spent only two days. Tourists continued to be predominantly male (53, 8%).
With the world of travel having changed drastically due to the pandemic, the year 2020 will always be remembered as the year that COVID-19 changed the world.
For more information, download the full report here if you missed the link above.