/ 9 May 2023

No more plans, we need implementation: De Lille on tourism recovery

Delille (1)
Minister Patricia de Lille. File photo

Recently appointed Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille has underlined the need to implement existing recovery plans to grow the industry — and the economy as a whole — after the devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“For us in South Africa, tourism is a key sector. We are busy implementing the tourism recovery plan of 2021. We are busy implementing the economic reconstruction and recovery plan of 2020,” De Lille said at the official opening of Africa’s Travel Indaba.

“So we’ve got the plans … Our challenge now is implementation, implementation and implementation. That is how we’re going to succeed. No more new plans. We’ve got enough plans.”

The conference — the largest tourism trade show on the continent — is taking place in Durban this week and will discuss, among the key topics, how to expand the industry.

Covid-related travel restrictions saw the number of non-resident visitors slump from 14.8 million in 2019 to only 3.9 million in 2020.  

As a result of the decline in the number of visitors to the country, inbound tourism expenditure fell by 70.5% in 2020 compared with 2019, according to Statistics South Africa. Domestic tourism expenditure also decreased in 2020, with resident visitors spending 32.8% less than they did in 2019.

Recent statistics suggest the tourism industry is on track to grow. According to the International Air Transport Association, passenger demand continued to rise in February, with revenue passenger kilometres up 55.5% year-on-year — just 15.1% lower than pre-pandemic readings. 

And according to routine data gathered by the department of home affairs, 2 106 923 travellers passed through South Africa during February. This represents a 90.6% year-on-year increase, Investec economist Lara Hodes pointed out in a research note last month.

On Tuesday, De Lille noted this recovery, but said there was still scope to improve. “If we work together, I believe … that anything in life is possible, but on the condition that we are prepared to work hard — damn hard. And we can exceed those pre-Covid-19 levels that we are working on. So the performance is good, but there is always room for improvement.”

Her department is aiming to see 21 million tourists visiting the country before 2030. But the global economic downturn, which has been brought on by the ratcheting up of interest rates to temper inflation, and high air travel costs could throw cold water on tourism’s growth.

In her speech, the minister identified two key matters hamstringing tourism in Africa, namely incongruous visa systems and airline capacity. She called for a harmonised visa regime across the continent to make it easier for visitors to move from one country to another and for simplified e-visa applications.

Travel in Africa was dealt a huge blow by the collapse of SAA, which was placed under business rescue in December 2019 and re-emerged as a much leaner operation, having had to cut a number of its international routes.

Despite these difficulties, De Lille said there are some positive developments in the African aviation sector. 

SAA, for example, has recently announced that it has been given the greenlight to expand its fleet, paving the way for the airline to relaunch long-haul flights.

The airline’s interim chief executive, John Lamola, said this would be “a significant boost for the domestic and regional markets and underscores our commitment to expanding our route network and increasing our frequency in the African market”. 

The journalist is a guest of South African Tourism at Africa’s Travel Indaba