Overwhelming growth in the country’s tourism statistics is misleading and not always what it seems, says Cape Town-based tourism expert Peter Koblmiller.
In an exclusive interview with the Weekend Argus last week, Koblmiller, editor of the German tourist magazine Kaapstadt.com, said a large percentage of foreigners visiting South Africa were from neighbouring countries and were automatically included in our national tourism statistics.
Refugees and visitors crossing the border to shop or to seek work were often also included in the annual national tourism figures.
“This is very unfortunate,” said Koblmiller. “Every day we read reports that nearly nine million tourists are coming to South Africa every year, when, in fact, the numbers of true tourists from Europe, Asia and the Americas are declining.”
Research conducted by German company G&J International revealed that 257 018 German tourists visited South Africa in 2003, a figure that had dropped to 164 424 in 2005. And Koblmiller said the figure was still declining every year.
“Tourists are not visiting South Africa because of the high crime rate. The first thing they are interested in is the crime situation before even booking their flight.
“Just a few weeks ago a Dutch woman was found murdered in a Somerset West hotel. That story made headlines in Europe and is definitely affecting tourism in South Africa.
“Tourists want to visit countries where they feel safe and where they are not mugged, stabbed or pistolwhipped on every second corner.
“Something needs to be done about the crime situation, because people are simply not coming to South Africa any more.”
Koblmiller said the government and tourism bodies linked to the government were issuing incorrect figures almost daily.
“Every day we hear about good tourism figures and the good tourism growth rate, but it is not true. The tourists they are talking about come from Lesotho, Zimbabwe and other neighbouring countries looking for jobs here.
“They don’t come to spend and stay in our hotels. The government and these tourism bodies need to do proper research and unpack who the actual visitors and tourists are.”
A report in the February issue of the tourism magazine Tourism Update said the celebration of the 8.3 million tourists to the country in 2006 and the 13.9% growth was not so impressive for the industry when it was explored.
The report said that in the past year, of the 6.6 million visitors to South Africa 1.6 million came from Lesotho, 820 921 from Mozambique, 774 026 from Swaziland, 599 421 from Botswana and 700 439 from Zimbabwe.
“Seventy-nine percent came from near neighbours.”
Alvin Kushner, chairman of the Tour Operators Association of Cape Town, echoed Koblmiller’s views.
He said the tourism figures included anyone from any other country who spent the night in South Africa. “By definition a tourist is anyone who stays overnight.”
Kushner said there had been a lot of booking cancellations over recent months mainly due to the economic situation and crime.
“The energy crisis is having a negative impact on industry as well. People read newspapers and they watch the news to see what’s happening in South Africa before they leave their countries. We are getting a lot of bad publicity and it’s not good for tourism.
“Crime is another issue. People want to feel safe and that is another reason why a lot of tour groups are cancelling.”
Kushner said despite crime and the economy, tourism was set to boom shortly before, during and after the 2010 Soccer World Cup.