Public holidays help boost domestic tourism, but pandemic continues to take its toll

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A number of public holidays helped to boost tourism in April.
A number of public holidays helped to boost tourism in April.
  • Statistics SA released its latest tourism accommodation data on Monday.
  • A number of public holidays helped to boost tourism in April.
  • The tourism sector, however, still remains hard-hit by the impact of the pandemic, says an economist.

Domestic tourism benefited from a spate of public holidays in April, but remains particularly hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Investec economist Lara Hodes.

"Domestic leisure travel has largely helped keep the SA's tourism industry afloat, although a number of businesses have succumbed to the financial effects of the pandemic," she commented on the latest data released by Statistics SA on Monday.  

The move back to level 1 lockdown from 1 March 2021 - following tighter restrictions implemented during the festive period to curb the second wave - buoyed March's and April's numbers with income from tourist accommodation rising by 43.4% month-on-month (m/m) and 22.2% m/m respectively, in nominal terms.

The largest y/y increases in income from accommodation were reported by caravan parks and camping sites, guesthouses, and guest farms. The largest positive month-on-month growth rates were recorded for guesthouses and guest farms and hotels.

"Despite the pick-up in activity in March and April, hotel occupancy rates are still depressed at around 26.8% [April]. Indeed, while the numerous public holidays and discounted offers helped boost activity, many households remain financially distressed. Unemployment is at a historically elevated level and high administered prices continue to dilute disposable incomes. Additionally, many people remain cautious, preferring not to travel until they have been vaccinated," said Hodes.

International travel 

On the international front, countries with sufficient vaccinated populations have begun opening up their borders, slowly reviving their tourism industries. Some of the large international carriers that suspended flights to SA are reinstating some of their routes, which should provide a boost to the local industry, says Hodes. However, the third wave, with no peak in sight as yet, remains a key deterrent.

"A swift, efficient, more wide-spread vaccination rollout remains a necessity to boost sentiment and place SA on a path to sustainable growth. Indeed, growing SA's tourism sector is a key priority for government, owing to its strong linkages with other sectors of the economy. The sector's recovery plan, approved by Parliament in April 2021, states that the Covid-19 crisis has provided an opportunity to 'focus on the environmental sustainability of the tourism sector, promote structural transformation, and ensure greater use of technology', vital in the creation of a 'more sustainable, inclusive and resilient tourism sector,'" said Hodes.

Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said of the latest Stats SA data that her department appreciates the positive and green shoots that start to emerge in the tourism sector.

"We believe that with the right enablers and accelerated efforts in domestic and regional marketing and with the backdrop of solid bio-safety standards for the tourism sector, the road to recovery looks promising," the minister said.

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