South Africa’s natural beauty and value for money still draw tourists.

Tourism numbers to South Africa are already showing a decline due to travel advisories about safety of tourists, and may decline further unless government gets serious about addressing it.

This was the general consensus from the tour operators Tourism Update spoke to following the updating of a travel advisory yesterday by the UK government, in which it highlighted that South Africa’s high level of crime was generally away from the usual tourist destinations.

The advisory added, however, that armed robberies against tourists had escalated, noting that a tourist had been killed. The advisory did, though, make it clear that over 430 000 British tourists visited South Africa each year and that most visits were trouble-free. It advised United Kingdom citizens to take sensible precautions during their stay in SA.

Premier Coaches & Transfers, Dragonfly and Tourvest Destination Management (TDM) all said crime – and the subsequent travel advisories – had been a factor in the decline in numbers.

“If government does not act swiftly and rectify the situation with a visible and significant decrease in crime, then South Africa will be rejected as a destination of choice and it will be tough to lure travellers back,” said Fanie van Zyl, MD of Premier Coaches & Transfers.

Acting Head of Corporate Communications at South African National Parks (SANParks), Reynold Thakhuli, believes the current decline in numbers is largely linked to the economic meltdown. He concedes that if crime is not addressed adequately by all stakeholders, South Africa runs the risk of tracing the decline in tourist numbers at certain destinations to crime.

CEO of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, told Tourism Update that while there was little or no growth in numbers this year, the outlook was promising. However, should there be another major incident against a foreign tourist, this could change. “We do need to clean up our image and collectively tackle crime head-on,” he added.

CEO of TDM, Martin Wiest, said there were three key decision-making factors that inbound travellers consider – the destination itself, the value proposition and their personal safety.

“South Africa is a beautiful destination offering great experiences and value for money. However, travel advisories have an enormous impact on the decision that travellers make,” he said.

Thakhuli added that while there was no disputing the fact that some advisories could be a deterrent for travellers – especially first-time travellers – the ranking of the advisories needed to be taken into account. 

Currently, travel advisories are ranked on a scale of 1 to 4. “South Africa has not been issued with any of the highest rankings in as far as travel advisories are concerned, which makes us one of the tourist-friendly destinations, despite some of the challenges we experience,” Thakhuli said.