It’s been a challenging year on the tourism front and Tourism Update spoke to a few industry leaders for their views on the good and the bad of 2019.

Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of the Tourism Business Council South Africa (TBCSA), says it has been a productive year for the organisation and the TBCSA has managed to elevate tourism as a priority sector in government.

“As an apex private sector tourism body, we managed to get the President to agree to the new target of 21 million arrivals by 2030 in his SONA address,” says Tshivhengwa.

“The improved relationship with the Department of Home Affairs that resulted in many positive actions and our continued relationship with the Ministry of Tourism, which resulted in a major announcement on tourism safety, are all major highlights.

“We met with the President at Nedlac and got unabridged birth certificates to be abolished and we also managed to get visa waivers through for many countries, including New Zealand, and there are many more in the pipeline.”

In addition to all the advocacy work done with government, the TBCSA also did a number of roadshows in the US and Europe and will continue to work together with government in 2020 to make sure further changes take place to enhance the industry.

Tourism Adviser, Gillian Saunders, says: “One of this year’s best tourism wins was more international direct flights to South Africa – we saw the direct British Airways flight to Durban introduced and are about to see the new United Airlines direct flight from New York to Cape Town. These are wins for international inbound tourism.”


She says the biggest challenges for 2019 relate to the damage of the destination’s brand image and resultant declines in overseas arrivals from a number of key markets.  

“While our destination brand was barely recovering from Day Zero (the Cape Town water crisis) and the drought, a number of other brand issues surfaced. These included land expropriation without compensation allegedly linked to land grabs and farm invasions, and high levels of crime and incidents of crime against tourists, but with perceptions made worse by inaccurate media coverage and statements.”

She says canned hunting and inappropriate animal interactions also proved to be problematic and added to the country’s brand challenges. The continuing countrywide load-shedding is another blow and directly affects tourism and the brand reputation.

Saunders points out that, while a number of issues still need to be addressed and we have our work cut out for us in 2020, there have definitely been some brand highs.

“The Rugby World Cup, Ndlovu Youth Choir, Trevor Noah, Sho Madjozi/John Cena, and of course, the Miss Universe win.  And we also continued to garner awards. For example, Cape Town as the Best City destination from the Telegraph; in the top five most beautiful countries in the world (Rough Guides) and the most beautiful country, according to Australian Better Homes and Gardens.”

For inspiration on what needs to be done in 2020 and beyond, read Gillian’s article:

Christelle Grohmann, Director of Strategic Development and Advisory, BDO Advisory Services (Pty) Ltd, says the biggest challenges for 2019 have been a continuing decline in tourism in both the foreign and domestic markets.

She says the reasons for the decline are wide, including a sluggish economy, crime and safety incidents, xenophobic attacks, change in tourism leadership at key organisations, and slow movement on birth certificates and visa transformation.

With unabridged birth certificates no longer a requirement, Grohmann says the quick wins must be the visiting friends and relatives (VFR) market and youth tourism.

David Frost, CEO of SATSA says: “It has been an eventful tourism year for SATSA – one in which the mantra ‘control what you can control’ became the overarching principle guiding our activities. After many years of lobbying vociferously against the Unabridged Birth Certificate requirement for foreign minors, 2019 saw a mammoth victory achieved as these were finally abolished.”

The big task at hand now, as Frost points out, is to focus on regaining South Africa’s share of the family tourism market with focused marketing and strong private-public partnerships.

“In the spirit of controlling what we can control, SATSA embarked on a major crisis communications and reputation management exercise to provide our members and their customers with a focused and practical set of tools in response to security concerns, drought and even health. This campaign will continue on into the new year with continuously updated information,” says Frost.

SATSA launched a world-class animal interactions guide and tool following a fully consultative process. The tool has been hailed as ground-breaking both locally and internationally.


In 2019, SATSA also collaborated with South African Tourism by being part of a high-level road show to key source markets, such as the UK, the US and Europe. 

“Although the insights were invaluable, these will only become meaningful if we can somehow translate these into a process where the private sector can input into where and how South African Tourism spends its budget, so we are all truly on the same page. There is much work to do in this respect and SATSA is committed to this in the new year,” says Frost.

Suzanne Bayly-Coupe, owner of strategic marketing company Classic Portfolio, says it’s been a good year for the company, and remaining agile has been important for her team.

“Our biggest challenge has been to manage the change across our industry across all spectrums and making sure our adjustment to and adaptation beyond do not threaten our current long-standing relationships with industry partners,” says Bayly-Coupe. “Our biggest wins were pioneering new destinations and seeking out the unusual while always staying true to our purpose of working with tourism companies committed to long-term sustainability.”

Graeme Mann, Kwandwe’s Executive Manager, says the biggest challenge has been the downturn in international arrivals to South Africa combined with the increasingly poor perception of South Africa as a destination for European travellers in particular. Mann says rising costs have also been a challenge, but he says, in true South African style, his team have made the most of the current situation.

“With lower occupancies, we have had more time to focus on training and uplifting staff, innovating and finding ways to utilise more time and resources for each guest experience. A little more time to reflect and focus inward is certainly a positive we have been able to take out of 2019.”

In light of all the challenges the year has presented, Don Scott, owner of Tanda Tula, chooses to take a positive approach.

“The challenges of 2018 and 2019 have shaken our industry out of complacency. Tourism has been elevated as a priority to the Office of the Presidency, and we have begun integrating our efforts to elevate South Africa as a competitive tourism destination. For tourism products to speak with one voice and to align our efforts is key to our competitiveness, and represents a great opportunity for 2020 and beyond.”