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Alan Solomon
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Does South Africa really want more tourists?

13 January 2014, 09:51

Do you ever wonder why you don’t see more South American tourists holidaying in South Africa? Particularly Brazilians – who occupy half of South America anyway. It’s true you will bump into a few more Brazilians than before but the overall numbers are disproportionately low.

It’s not because there aren’t enough Brazilians, not with Brazil’s population of over two hundred  million people. Sao Paulo, their biggest city, has over 22 million people in its metropolitan area. That’s getting close to half of South Africa’s total population.

It cannot be because they have no money. Brazil’s national Gross Domestic Product is in the same ball park as the United Kingdom and it’s GDP is bigger than either Russia’s or India’s. In fact, Brazil’s GDP is ten times bigger than South Africa’s and even bigger than the whole of Africa’s GDP.

It can’t be because they are penny-pinching travellers if they have held the position of the biggest individual spenders in the USA. Ah, but perhaps it’s because they have no holidays, poor things?  With an average of four weeks annual holiday, plus 12 national holidays a year, finding time for a good vacation is not an issue.

And it is not because Brazilians aren’t prepared to travel far. For starters their own country is eight times bigger than South Africa and they holiday all over the world. A different language won’t stop them either as places like Croatia, Turkey are popular choices for them at the moment.

The 2010 World Cup did South Africa a world of good when it came to showcasing this beautiful country and there was an obvious spike in tourists from South America. More importantly there has been an overall improvement in the number of Brazilians coming to South Africa throughout the year. But the number is still very small compared to any of the European countries. And when you consider that the 2012 SA Tourism report said there were 1,847,973 Zimbabwean tourists coming into South Africa - compared to 73,282 Brazilian tourists in the same period - you have to wonder what is considered a realistic definition of tourism. This is particularly relevant when, according to the 2012 Worldbank report, the average Zimbabwean GDP per person is only 7.6% of the average Brazilian’s.

At first it may seem a bit sad that the people of both our countries know so little about each other. It is a reflection of the focus of our respective educational systems. The tragic passing of Madiba has raised Brazil’s awareness of South Africa once again, so the opportunities to learn from each other are huge. We have not yet met a Brazilian who has not fallen in love with South Africa after visiting that beautiful country. And Cape Town, in particular, seems to be a marvellous revelation to them. The positive impact is emphasised because the Mother City has such a wonderful blend of Africa and a cosmopolitan atmosphere, as well as the most diverse array of attractions, all in one place. It’s the same reason most international travellers who fly into South Africa spend more bed nights in Cape Town.

Does the flying distance prevent more Brazilians (and other South Americans) flying to South Africa? Well, yes, but it shouldn’t have to. Flying to Johannesburg from Sao Paulo is 7444km and then you still have to add about 1500km for the flight to Cape Town. And that means with a change of aeroplanes that adds on many frustrating hours. A direct flight from Sao Paolo to Miami is only 6546km.

You just have to look at the official South African tourism department websites (and ask any tourist) to know that the Western Cape offers the biggest honeypot to attract overseas tourists to benefit South Africa as a whole. And when you consider that Cape Town would only be a 6431km direct flight from Sao Paolo (and a similar figure from Rio) the solution seems obvious.

But there is no direct flight to Cape Town from Brazil and the only regular flight to and from Brazil is with South African Airways. It does beg the question, why?

Unfortunately, SAA did not respond to our written enquiries about the reasons.

Alan and Catarina Solomon

(South African and Brazilian)

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