The Western Cape water crisis, fear of listeriosis as well as reports of land reform are having a serious economic impact on the local tourism industry.
TourismUpdate.co.za reports forward bookings between April and September are down 30% to 50%. The website dedicated to tourism news in southern Africa quotes a Wesgro survey and Wesgro chief marketing officer, Judy Lain, who says the “concern around 2019 is that the people are telling us that their books are empty compared with last year”. She says a group of 18 hotels and tour operators surveyed reported a 10% to 15% loss of revenue year-on-year in January and February, equating to a loss of R90m (€6.22m), predominantly from South Africa, the UK, Germany and the US.
She says the biggest reason for the slump is that traditionally most people make their bookings in January and February, a time when the messaging around ‘Day Zero’ was worst and when “images of empty dams, people queuing for water at the Newlands spring and talk of Armageddon” circulated in the international media. She says uncertainty around water security in 2019 is also impacting forward bookings.
In addition, she says, there is concern from inbound operators around the listeriosis outbreak and land reform. “I received a mail from an American agent yesterday needing clarity around land reform, which we now need to provide in partnership with the National Department of Tourism and SA Tourism,” she says.
Satsa CEO, David Frost, told TourismUpdate that the losses in bookings are “not just drought related”, adding that even the recent increase in the VAT rate has a role to play. “They are rather a combination of South Africa’s strong exchange rate and pricing on the back of strong demand that doesn’t necessarily make us the best value for money; concerns around water, listeriosis and land reform; plus the VAT increase – which no one has an issue with – but it does have implications for forward bookings. We’re becoming a destination with which it is difficult to do business and the danger is that our overseas suppliers will shift their focus somewhere else.”
He questions why the Western Cape government is not spending more on marketing the province, as it is a R42bn (€2.9bn) a year industry. Wesgro’s annual tourism marketing budget (excluding staff, operations and special projects) is R14.7m (€1m) and involves a staff of five for leisure tourism and six staff members at the convention bureau.