The COVID-19 pandemic severely affected the island of St Helena’s tourism sector, but since the lifting of restrictions in August 2022, the remote destination has shown strong signs of recovery.
Estimates forecasted that the peak tourist demand season for 2022/23 (between October to March) was likely to see around 50% of the number of visitor arrivals and of visitor spend when compared to the 2019/20 peak tourist demand season.
Recently available data released by the island’s Statistics Office indicates that tourism demand was in fact higher than anticipated, suggesting recovery is happening faster than expected.
Total arrivals by air of visitors with a leisure purpose between April 2022 and March 2023 was 1 488, 61% of the number during the same period in 2019/20 (2 436). This is despite quarantine requirements being in effect for the first five months of this period.
Figures for air arrivals of leisure visitors during the peak tourist demand season between October 2022 and March 2023 were even stronger, at 74% of the same period in 2019/20 (1 153 compared to 1 564).
This is positive news for both the tourism sector and for the wider Island. Prior to the pandemic, tourism – through the provision of services to visitors – had grown into St Helena’s biggest export sector.
In 2019/20 the visitation expenses of tourists and other visitors was provisionally estimated by the Statistics Office to account for around 11% of all money coming in from abroad. This makes it the biggest contribution to the island’s economy after financial and capital aid from the UK.
The Statistics Office has also made provisional estimates that the total expenditure of visitors in 2022/23 was between £3.9m (€4.5m) and £5.4m (€6.2m). Whilst lower than 2019/20, this is still higher than what had been anticipated:
It should also be noted that the positive figures for the last year were not only in spite of the necessary disruption caused by quarantine requirements, but also against much reduced air access arrangements.
Even after the phased recommencement of the Airlink service began in March 2022, the peak tourist demand seasons in 2022/23 only had weekly flights, rather than twice weekly flights as in previous years.
The operation of a second weekly flight during the period November 28 this year to the end of February 2024 should provide additional opportunities to the tourism sector and Island businesses.
Minister for Treasury, Infrastructure and Sustainable Development, Mark Brooks, said: “These figures paint a very encouraging picture for the island’s fortunes after the significant impacts the pandemic has had on our economy. The island’s future prosperity will undoubtedly be influenced by our tourism sector. To see it already bouncing back like this is therefore great news.
“With the launch of the Tourism Recovery Strategy last week, and the announcement that £500k (€575 627) of this year’s budget will be ring-fenced for tourism development activities, we hope to see this sector move from strength to strength over the next 12 months.”
Click here to learn more about St Helena as a tourism destination.