Foreign arrivals to SA plunge 71% due to Covid-19

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The international market still has a lot of questions, ranging from changing travel requirements in their own country to safety whilst on vacation. (Getty)
The international market still has a lot of questions, ranging from changing travel requirements in their own country to safety whilst on vacation. (Getty)
  • Statistics SA released its Tourism 2020 report on Thursday.
  • It shows the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on foreign arrivals in the country.
  • The impact was mainly due to lockdown regulations.


Foreign arrivals to South Africa dropped by 71% from just over 15.8 million in 2019 to less than 5 million in 2020, according to the Tourism 2020 report released by Statistics South Africa on Thursday. 

The report says it is evident that the Covid-19 pandemic hit the tourism industry quite hard around the world and in South Africa, mainly due to the lockdown and travel restrictions that were imposed.

About 74.8% of the tourists who arrived in South Africa in 2020 were residents of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. Zimbabwe remained the leading SADC country in terms of tourist visits. In 2020, 1.5% of tourists were from other African countries apart from the SADC region. Nigeria was the leading country for tourists to SA in this category.

Residents of overseas countries made up 23.6% of the tourists.

In 2020, tourists from the United Kingdom topped the overseas visitor list. Australia had the largest percentage decrease of overseas visitors to SA.

Overall, travel for a holiday continued to be the main reason for visits to South Africa, according to the report.

Cape Town's Mayoral Committee Member for Economic Opportunities James Vos said the latest report from Stats SA showing the effects of the global pandemic on tourism makes for sobering reading.

"While tourism markets across the globe were similarly hard hit, other countries have started opening up because of their vaccine rollout, so too must national government fast-track South Africa's initiative so that we can better instil confidence that travellers to our shores will have a safe and healthy visit," Vos commented on Thursday.

He is "cautiously optimistic" about reports that tourism sector frontline workers might be prioritised for vaccinations.

Latest campaign

Also on Thursday, the Western Cape Tourism, Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (Wesgro), in partnership with the Western Cape Government, launched the latest international tourism campaign.

"Get in a Good Space" is a digital campaign geared to keep the destination top of the travel consideration list by demonstrating how the region is the perfect antidote to lockdown life.

"The international market still has a lot of questions, ranging from changing travel requirements in their own country to safety whilst on vacation. They're still in a 'dream phase' as they emerge with cautious optimism out of a hard lockdown," says Wesgro's Chief Marketing Officer Monika Iuel. 

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