South Africa’s domestic travel has shown a significant improvement in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period in 2022 with an increase in overnight domestic spend as consumers took shorter but more frequent trips.
This was among the latest domestic and international tourism arrival statistics released by Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille at Africa’s Travel Indaba last week.
According to the data the period from January to March 2023 (Q1 2023) saw domestic overnight trips exceed pre-pandemic levels as well as 2022 levels by 41%. Overnight domestic spend was also up 24.4% compared to Q1 2022.
The total number of nights spent away from home reached 27.9 million, a 32.9% increase over the same period in 2022.
“The average length of stay per trip fell by 5.7% highlighting the global trend that travellers now opt to take shorter and more frequent trips than before,” de Lille said.
“Domestic holiday trips from January to March 2023 were up 40.5% compared to 2022 to reach 2.4 million. These holiday trips represented a 27% share of total overnight trips.
The expenditure from holiday trips in Q1 of 2023 was R9.5 billion (€459m) compared to R7.9 billion (€381.5m) in 2022,” de Lille said.
"Domestic travellers travel mostly for visiting friends and relatives, followed by holiday.
The top three provinces visited were Gauteng, Limpopo, and Eastern Cape,” she said.
The number of international tourists visiting the country rose in 2022 to almost 5.8 million visitors, including 4 million from Africa, a 152.6% increase compared to 2021. There were 2.1 million international visitors during the first quarter of 2023, a 102.5% increase compared to the same period in 2022.
“Zimbabwe maintained its reign as South Africa's top source market, a trend consistent since 2019. Over 500 000 Zimbabwean travellers journeyed to South Africa between January and March 2023, compared to 643 000 in the same period in 2019 and 173 000 in 2022,” De Lille said.
Mozambique followed as the second-largest source market, with 354 000 arrivals, followed by Lesotho and Eswatini, taking the third and fourth spots, respectively. The United Kingdom claimed the fifth position, with more than 118 000 arrivals, a decrease from 135 000 in 2019.
“Germany, USA, Botswana, Namibia, and the Netherlands round out the top 10 source markets for travellers to our country. Across the board, we've seen a 102% surge in total arrivals from 2022 to 2023 during Q1, reflecting South Africa's attractiveness to international visitors,” De Lille said.
The number of bed nights has also recovered to 28.4 million, a 3% decline compared to Q1 2019 but a 124% increase over Q1 2022.
“Another promising trend is the 11% increase in the average length of stay in Q1 2023 compared to 2022. Visitors are spending more time exploring South Africa, with the average stay reaching 13 days in Q1 2023, surpassing the 11-day average in 2019,” de Lille said.
“These numbers showcase South Africa's undeniable magnetism and the vitality of our tourism industry as we continue to welcome travellers from around the globe with open arms,” she said.
There was a 12.3% increase in MICE trips (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) taken during January and March 2023. The South African National Conventions Bureau’s Sales team won 40 of the bids submitted for the 2022/23 financial year, securing a contribution of R338m (€16m) to the economy between 2022 -2025. A total of 16 505 international and regional delegates are expected to attend the events.
The secured MICE events include the International Congress of African Phytomedicine Scientific Society, the Southern African Neurological Association Conference, and the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI) Global Congress. Events will be hosted in Johannesburg, Tshwane, Hammanskraal, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Durban, Mokgopong, Muldersdrift and Pietermaritzburg.
Air capacity has also risen since last year, with a 56% increase in Q1 2023 to 1.8 million seats compared to the same quarter in 2022. A total of 23 new routes were introduced including new direct flights, such as Cape Town to New York and Washington by United Airlines, while Air China resumed direct flights to South Africa.
“With focused action on improving visa turnaround times, increasing air access, ensuring safety, and aggressive marketing, we are determined to surpass pre-Covid levels,” de Lille said.
“Working together with all stakeholders, we aim to boost tourism's contribution to the economy and job creation.”