How Local and Domestic Travel Rescued Cape Town’s Tourism Sector

Gallivant Africa

New report reveals how domestic visitors rescued Cape Town’s tourism sector in the wake of the Omicron variant in 2021.

Crash-and-burn is one way to describe the devastating effect that the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular the Omicron variant, had on Cape Town Central City’s visitor economy in late 2021.

And the timing couldn’t have been worse, with this variant surfacing in South Africa in December of that year.  Fortunately, the corresponding surge in international travel cancellations were countered by an uptake by local tourists.

Table Mountain sunset

This is one of reflections coming out of the latest State of Cape Town Central City Report 2021 – A Year in Review (SCCR) released this month, published by the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID).

The local tourism and hospitality sector had hoped the latter part of 2021 would be bumper summer season amid the easing of international travel bans and an increase in international bookings.

The removal of South Africa from the so-called travel red list in October 2021 prompted strong signs of recovery. In fact, at the time, occupancy rates in Cape Town were at 50% and above for October, November and December.

Then Omicron hit and what resulted was a swift return of travel bans. Within 48 hours of Omicron’s discovery, South Africa’s tourism and hospitality sectors lost around R1 billion in cancelled bookings. By mid-December, South Africa faced heightened travel restrictions from around 90 countries.

According to Kirsty de Groot of HTI Consulting, with Cape Town being the country’s tourism hub, it was the hardest hit by international cancellations.

“Prior to the pandemic, the tourism industry employed close to 50 000 people directly and generated around R15 billion per annum. The average international tourist spends nine times more during their time in Cape Town than local visitors spend,” she says.

But amid this chaos, there was a silver lining.

A dipstick survey conducted by Cape Town Tourism found that 57% of its members – including restaurants, hotels, shopping malls and tour operations – performed better in December 2021 compared with the previous year. Almost two thirds (64 %) of its members reported a rise in domestic visitors.

Occupancy for greater Cape Town was reported at 32.2 % for the year ending December 2021, up from the disappointing 28.3 % achieved in 2020. Given that 2021 saw a number of hotels re-opening  after 2020 and new properties entering the market, this increase is even more significant.

Adding to the occupancy capacity of the Mother City in 2021 was the opening of the new 500+ room Hotel Sky, Old Bank Hotel, The Capital 15 on Orange, and the much-anticipated Rockefeller aparthotel.

A combination of the steady roll-out of vaccinations and the “normalisation” of living with the pandemic, along with reduced rates offered to domestic travellers, domestic tourism was instrumental in saving the central city and its visitor economy.

“What the SCCR report and these latest statistics reinforce is that the Cape Town inner city is the best place to work, live and play, and that despite many hardships and restrictions, it has proven itself resilient once again,” says Tasso Evangelinos CEO of the CCID. “This is the core of the city, where business, pleasure, travel and entertainment merge, and it is because of the locals that we survived many a hurdle in 2021”.

Given the removal of all Covid regulations, many hoteliers are expecting that the peak season for 2022/2023 will be strong, and with many opportunities awaiting in 2023 including the return of the conferencing market on which many hotels rely.

With these insights coming to the fore in the latest SCCR report and with World Tourism Day on 27 September, Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID), wants to thank South Africans again for supporting the city.

“As the pandemic has taught us, the locals sustain businesses, so rethinking tourism should consider the domestic market as well. International tourists love Cape Town, but it’s the locals who keep the city thriving” says Enver Duminy, CEO of Cape Town Tourism, reflecting on the theme of Tourism Month 2022 being ‘Rethinking Tourism: Opportunities Await’.

Gallivant Africa
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