The proverbial chickens have come home to roost in South Africa. Not that it is any skin off my nose how the Seffricans grind themselves into the mud, but unfortunately, the majority of our tourists still travel through the Johannesburg and Cape Town hubs en route to Namibia, so when those stooges’ antics affect us locally, it becomes my concern.
Earlier this month, the FNB Fenata Travel Index showed a marked decline of 12.8% for the first quarter. The compilers of the local index said this coincided with the normal seasonality of the local tourism sector but then added that local respondents in an opinion pole expected much higher first quarter visitor numbers.
Almost one third of the respondents were disappointed with overall results and almost 39% confirmed that tourism revenues have declined substantially.
Then this week, the Tourism Business Council of South Africa released its second quarter survey, painting an even bleaker picture than the Namibian first quarter.
“In the period between April and June, business performance levels across the tourism value chain slipped from a Tourism Business Index of 99.9 in Q1 to an index score of 83.6 in the second quarter. This is the lowest performance level since the third quarter of 2011, when the industry registered a very low index score of 70.0” said the Council.
The SA Tourism Business Index only started in 2010 so it must be expected that so-called base effects will show a larger impact than an index that covers a decade or more. As is usual in this type of index, 100 is regarded as the base value or the so-called Point Datum.
We use a very similar methodology on which to base our national accounts. So when the SA Tourism Business Index slips to 83.6 index points, it is similar to state it has shed about 16% of its base value. Notice the convergence between the local first quarter index declining by almost 13% and the SA second quarter index shedding just over 16%. It is simply too close to be explained away as a mere coincidence.
Now what exactly are the South African chickens that have come home to roost? I can think of a number of uglies, each contributing to the overall negative picture to put off any prospective visitor to SA. And by throttling the number of visitors, implicitly South Africa also throttles the visitors who would pass through there on their way to us.
Load shedding, industrial unrest, xenophobic attacks, civil disobedience, contaminated drinking water, bankrupt municipalities and provincial governments, a poachers paradise, a corruptible police force, and finally black students who love throwing their own faeces at colonial statues which must then be cleaned by other black employees. Do the people in South Africa really think the average tourist is so daft, he or she does not notice there is a free-for-all going on down there.
Of course, there are genuine excuses for the slump in tourism like the Ebola scare and the introduction of new visa regulations by the SA government for new visitors, especially those from a list of countries published by their home affairs equivalent.
It is interesting to note that all subcomponents of the Tourism Business Index contributed to the decline, not only accommodation establishments.
Tourism is one of the preferential sectors of the fourth National Development Plan. There are huge expectations for this industry and all its ancillary service providers over the next five and ten year periods. If we are penalised by a riotous neighbour who has failed to instill a sense of national pride in its own citizens twenty years down the line, then it is time for all the hot air discussions in SADC meetings to stop and to state flatly and honestly that southern Africa needs a new international airtravel hub, not Johannesburg.
The only problem is, where to locate such a travel hub since most of the other SADC members are playing in their own stooge circuses. Offhand, I can think of only one city that lends itself to such a role and that is Gaborone. Granted, infrastructure is limited, but space, especially airspace, is no problem. And with the usual efficiency the Botswana Government tackles any development initiative, it should not be long before a majority of international travellers prefer to use Gaborone as a hub, and shun Johannesburg and Cape Town. Imagine the benefits to our local tourism industry.