It’s important to diversify the national tourism source marketing portfolio – which South Africa has done – to be able to limit its “concentration risk” amid a crisis such as the coronavirus.

“It means we have not put all our eggs in one key tourism basket and therefore can still focus on attracting tourists from other source markets,” said South African Tourism CEO, Sisa Ntshona.

The coronavirus, although largely still restricted to China (with 99% of the world’s cases), is expected to subdue tourism on a global scale, he added, noting that South Africa’s tourism industry needed to get ahead of the curve and properly manage the messages that were getting out to the international tourists.

“The most important aspects are education, correct information and consistent communication,” said Ntshona. And although the World Health Organisation (WHO) has yet to confirm any cases in Africa, he acknowledged that South Africa needed a strategy to deal with the coronavirus.

This was especially important as WHO DG, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu, highlighted that the coronavirus was “high-risk” on a global level.

“Every country in the world is on heightened alert and our response needs to be multi-pronged, including stepping up screening and monitoring procedures at all our country’s borders,” said Ntshona.

And while travel out of China was currently severely restricted, it remained an important market for South Africa, he added. “When those gates reopen, we need to be ready to welcome our Chinese visitors.”

Impact on Chinese global travel      

Director of Communications at Tourism Economics (an Oxford Economics company), Gary Duncan, highlighted in the latest World Economic Prospects report – which gives projections for global growth as well as of expected disruptions to worldwide travel and tourism – that, despite the uncertainly of the impact, it was Oxford Economics’ current view that the virus would have a high but short-lived impact on Chinese travel and tourism.

“Analysis of previous health crises (including the 2003 Sars episode) suggests a rapid recovery is likely if the outbreak is contained relatively quickly.” He noted that Tourism Economics expected a decline in Chinese travel activity to be experienced in 2020 with recovery beginning later in the year or in 2021.

“In a worst case, downside scenario which assumes that the coronavirus outbreak lasts longer and is of greater severity than the Sars episode, we estimate 25 million lost trips and a loss of US$73 billion in Chinese visitor spending,” said Duncan.