The continuing debate that the SAT stats are not accurate, is valid, but not new. I remember attending a conference in Johannesburg in 1994 when this subject was discussed in detail and a speaker from the Caribbean explained that people visiting more than one island would be counted more than once – a similar problem to the one we have always had in South Africa.
The other problem we have is the huge volume of VFR traffic – so many South African’s living abroad and travelling to visit family – these people have little or no impact on the numbers of hotel beds or tours booked.
The challenges we face promoting South Africa as a tourism destination are complex – the world is in recession and if you pick up the holiday brochures, South Africa appears to be one of the most expensive destinations to visit. Not just because of the airfares – all long haul destinations face that problem.
25 years ago the London/Joburg airfare was £772, so with normal inflation the airfare should now be approx. £1775 (the average airfare is currently approx. £800, including taxes). Using the same inflation table a top private game lodge charging £370 in 2002 should now be charging £480 (the game lodge is charging approx. £520.00).
Then consider the number of visitors we had in 1990 vs the number of tourism beds. What is the percentage growth of visitors vs tourism beds? The figures are not readily available, but I think you will find that the increase in tourism beds far outweighs the increase in tourism numbers.
Before the Football World Cup South Africa was seen as a dangerous place to visit – that perception changed – South African was then seen as an expensive place to visit. After recent horrific events in North West Province, the riots in the Winelands and the on-going Dewani murder investigation – South Africa is now seen as a dangerous expensive destination.
Do we have to rely on SAT stats? How about looking at stats compiled by other organisations – stats that show which countries produce the most tourists overall or those who spend the most on holiday? Would this not give us a better understanding of where potential business should come from?
We know that we have an amazing destination, offering unforgettable experiences that appeal to people from all the corners of the world. Accept that if you offer a top priced product, your market has shrunk, decide which tourists you want to appeal to and get on with your marketing and promoting and forget SAT stats.
SAT should be concentrating on changing those negative perceptions.