The marginal growth in international tourist numbers in February show the last of the tourism industry as South Africa knows it. With international tourism likely to pick up again only in 2021, domestic tourism has been the topic of conversation.

Director of Strategic Development and Advisory at BDO, Lee-Anne Bac, told Tourism Update that South Africa was one of the few countries on the continent with a reasonably sized domestic market.

“This is a real opportunity to get South Africans travelling in their own country, and the industry needs to relook and gear towards catering and marketing to the domestic market,” said Bac. “This means having more affordable products in the tourism industry. And, in order for it to be more affordable, there needs to be more flexibility.”

Bac said history had shown that tourism could be reignited after such a crisis. She gave the example of Butlin’s, a chain of large seaside resorts in the UK, which was founded on providing affordable holidays for ordinary British families after World War II.

“South Africans are going to need a boost in morale post-COVID-19 as the country will still be in an economic recession, so affordable holidays will be needed now more than ever. There are many niches within the domestic markets that are untapped.

“Currently, the products in the industry aren’t geared to the new millennial generation in the domestic market. The industry needs to take this time to get creative and bring something exciting to the domestic market once tourism begins again.”

Bac recognised the challenges of air access and noted that, with airlines struggling against the impact of the pandemic, flight tickets would be expensive. “Tourism businesses need to focus on their immediate local market for driveable weekend getaways. South Africans will come out of this wanting to visit extended families and are more likely to drive than fly.”

Although tourism arrivals to SA from the rest of Africa dropped significantly from January to February this year, Bac believes there is an opportunity for intra-Africa travel to help revive the tourism industry.

She said other African countries, especially those that neighbour South Africa, would be vying to attract travellers, so there would be plenty of competition for the South African domestic market.

“There will be businesses in the industry whose entire business model is based on international travellers and will go into hibernation until international travellers return to our shores. We cannot say when, but we will have a bustling tourism industry again.”