The latest tourism and migration data released by Statistics SA this week reflects the last of the local tourism industry as SA knew it, in the view of Lee-Anne Bac, a director at the specialist tourism unit of international consulting firm BDO.
It is estimated by the World Travel and Tourism Council that SA's tourism industry provided jobs for more than 700 000 people by last year.
If it was not for the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, BAC says she would have been positive about the data reflected for the first two months of the year, especially if Chinese arrivals had remained at the same levels compared to the same period last year.
The data shows, for instance, that the number of Chinese tourists who visited SA plunged by 39.7% in the first two months of the year compared to the same period last year. This was already indicative of the impact the spreading coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic was having in China, leading to travel restrictions.
At the same time, over the first two months of the year, there was growth from important source markets like the US, the UK and Germany.
It was, however, the about 8 000 fewer tourists from China in January and February this year, compared to last year, which impacted the absolute numbers for this year.
"While the visitor arrivals in the first two months of the year were not startling and nothing to write home about, at least it shows SA still had a tourism industry at that time. Now we have nothing," says Bac.
Even with President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing on Thursday evening that there will be an ease in the level of lockdown restrictions as from the end of April, the tourism industry is unlikely to reap immediate benefit from it. International travel will, for instance still be banned as well as travel between provinces, except under exceptional circumstances like funerals.
South African Tourism is compiling a Tourism Recovery Plan in a bid to limit the damage suffered by the industry due to the pandemic and lockdown.
"It is frightening. The reality is that many businesses in the tourism industry will not survive. We have to be realistic. It is tragic, especially since the industry created many jobs," says Bac.
Investec economist Lara Hodes commented in a statement that the period covered by the latest data ended just ahead of the first coronavirus case reported in SA on 5 March and a few weeks before the national lockdown and travel bans basically shut down the local tourism industry.
In the first two months of the year, 1.7% more travellers (3 091 233 individuals) passed through SA's ports of entry and exit compared to the same period last year. They were made up of 752 507 SA residents and 2 338 726 foreign travellers.
Travel by South African residents grew by 2.9 % y/y in February, while the number of foreign travellers (arrivals, departures and transits) rose by 1.3% y/y.
Of the foreign arrivals in January and February, 1 218 468 were made up of 75 171 non-visitors and 1 143 297 visitors. The visitors consisted of 342 482 same-day visitors and 800 815 overnight visitors (tourists).
Of the tourists 248 037 were from overseas; 538 349 from SADC countries; 13 027 from other African countries and the country of residence of 1 402 tourists was classified as unspecified.
Fin24 has already reported about SA's luxury tourism sector having been devastated by the impact of the pandemic and lockdown.
Feedback from the industry has been that it is pinning its hopes on the domestic tourism market to lead the way to recovery in a post coronavirus world. This is despite the anticipation that South Africans will be cash strapped.