Global report reveals the extent of the drop to travel and tourism's contribution to SA economy

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The threat of job losses persists as many jobs are currently supported by government retention schemes and reduced hours.
The threat of job losses persists as many jobs are currently supported by government retention schemes and reduced hours.
Andrew Brookes
  • Research by the World Travel and Tourism Council reflects the huge impact the coronavirus pandemic had on the sector.
  • In Africa, for example, the performance of the travel and tourism industry dropped by almost half.
  • In South Africa the sector's contribution to GDP dropped from 6.9% in 2019 to 3.7% in 2020.


While the travel and tourism industry's contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) in South Africa was 6.9% in 2019, it dropped to 3.7% in 2020, due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Economic impact research by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), which represents the private sector, also indicates that in 2020 domestic tourism in SA was down 42.8% and international tourism down 66%.

In Africa as a whole, the research estimates the travel and tourism performance is down 49%.

Globally, the travel and tourism sector lost almost USD$4.5 trillion and the research estimates that over 62 million jobs were lost in the sector - representing a drop of 18.5%. Furthermore, its global GDP contribution fell 49% to USD$4.7 trillion in 2020 from nearly US$ 9.2 trillion in 2019. The sector's contribution to the global economy decreased from 10.4% in 2020 to just 5.5% last year.

Leisure spending decreased by 49.4%, while business spending dropped by 61%. The research also found that the impact of the pandemic crisis was 18 times bigger than the global financial crisis of 2008. 

At the recent global summit of the WTTC, its CEO Gloria Guevara said in her opening comments that, while 2020 was not the year the travel and tourism sector expected it to be, it was a year during which "people really came together". The sector joined forces to support its workforce and local communities, in her view.

"From using our facilities as emergency hospitals and offering hotel rooms to doctors and nurses, to providing free meals to millions and transforming convention centres in medical facilities. We have seen an amazing response. One thing has been clear, our members, the leaders and captains of our sector, have truly stepped up. I have learned through their example that leadership matters, especially during such difficult times," she said.

"What is clear is that we are not going back to 2019, we are moving forward. Travel and tourism will come out of this crisis stronger and better. But to do so, it is crucial that it continues working together to achieve recovery both financially and socially. We need to be united." 

The WTTC's global summit in Cancun Mexico was the world's first major gathering of world tourism leaders since the outbreak of the pandemic. During the summit, a "women's initiative" was launched with the aim of removing existing barriers for women within the sector and to implement initiatives for greater success for women.

"More than ever, as governments begin to re-open their economies, it is vital we share knowledge and best practice among travel leaders and political leaders to navigate our way to a responsible recovery," said Guevara.

She explained that, the WTTC research should be seen as a vital tool in helping public and private sector bodies in their policy making and investment decisions support for the sector.

"Prior to the pandemic, travel and tourism - including its direct, indirect and induced impacts - accounted for one in four of all new jobs created across the world," she said.

"The threat of job losses persists as many jobs are currently supported by government retention schemes and reduced hours, which without a full recovery of travel and tourism could be lost."

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