Tourism numbers to South Africa are inching toward a full 2019 recovery. But safety and security concerns pose a challenge to its appeal as a destination.
More international travelers have been visiting South Africa this year, with visitors from the U.S. especially seeing significant growth. But crime fears might deter a full recovery. So leaders are deploying 2,300 tourism monitors during the peak holiday season to bolster the safety of visitors.
A total of 7.6 million international tourists arrived in the country from January to November, according to a report published on Tuesday by Statistics South Africa.
However, visitor numbers still lagged 17% behind the 10.2 million who visited in 2019.
About 370,500 U.S. travelers visited between January and November — a 42% rise compared to the same period a year ago.
“The U.S. remains a top international source market for South Africa and has been recording robust, steady growth in arrivals in 2023,” said the country’s tourism minister, Patricia De Lille.
The National Tourism Safety Strategy, launched by De Lille’s department in conjunction with the country’s police services, is expected to deploy 2,300 tourism monitors at key tourist attractions such as ports of entry, national parks, and other popular attractions. These are in addition to existing police.
Strong Pan-African Travel
Inter-regional travel from Africa remains the main driver of inbound travel to the country, with 5.8 million African travelers arriving between January and November this year — a 76% increase compared to the same period in 2022. Analysts have forecast that the boom in Africa’s middle class will continue to fuel Pan-African travel growth.
Europe contributed 15% of the total arrivals to South Africa from January to November this year, with a more meager 43% year-over-year increase. More North American travelers have visited South Africa in 2023, overtaking Britain — which used to be South Africa’s largest international source market before the pandemic.
The visitor numbers from Asia remain small, with 73,037 tourists in the past year.
De Lille flagged the need to address ongoing visa regulations and limited air access and lift from Asia Pacific, in particular, to “unlock” South Africa’s full tourism potential.
The Tourism Monitors program, funded by the country’s Department of Tourism at $9.5 million (R174.5 million), was meant to be rolled out by mid-December. However, not all nine South African provinces have monitors in place yet.
The City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member James Vos said that given the expected influx of domestic and international travelers over the summer months, the country needs to “pull out all the stops to ensure the safety of visitors and locals.”
The City of Cape Town has also put its own Tourism Unit of 4,000 enforcement and emergency personnel in place for tourism hotspots across the popular tourist destination. It includes dedicated patrolling of tourism routes at Signal Hill, Lion’s Head, Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain trails, Bo-Kaap, and the Waterfront.
The Rosebank Districts (RMD and LRMD) and Oxford Parks Management District have joined the Johannesburg Tourism Company to bolster safety measures in Rosebank, a popular suburb in Johannesburg. The Tourism Ambassador program will assist visitors with safety and way-finding in Rosebank, as 36 so-called ambassadors monitor the node with precinct security and relevant stakeholders during the peak summer season.
Growing South Africa’s Tourism Appeal
The issue of visa regulations, as highlighted by De Lille, is overshadowed by high crime levels and an ongoing energy crisis in the country, with private-sector tourism businesses taking extra steps to boost South Africa’s tourism appeal.
Earlier this year, the private sector launched a Secura Traveller tourism safety app and operations center to assist tourists with a range of services. The app links tourists to more than 200 service providers, including private security companies and medical and translation services, should tourists need assistance in the event of an incident.
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Photo credit: View of Table Mountain from the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Shaun Meintjes / Cape Town harbour from Cape Town Waterfront