As much as it pains me to say it, South Africa’s economy has seen better days.
For one, growth is down. In 2017, the South African Reserve Bank cut its growth forecasts, topping out at around 0.5 percent, the latest blow in a long series of economic setbacks that have accumulated over the last decade or so. Along with a significant degree of government corruption, and one might think that the nation is far removed from the economic powerhouse of just a few short years ago.
Yet there are bright spots, most notably tech and tourism. In 2016, the hospitality sector comprised 9.3 percent (402 billion rand) of the national economy; by 2027, this share is projected to rise to 11.5 percent, or 624 billion rand. Compared to the rest of the economy, this growth is rapid and expansive.
Yet the growth in tourism didn’t come from the nations which have traditionally supplied the majority of visitors to South Africa. Though the number of French and German visitors remained consistent, travelers from the United Kingdom, long the largest source of visitors, grew only by 1 percent. Instead, the largest growth came from China, which saw its 2013 visitor numbers climb by 14.7 percent (151,847 tourists), followed by India, which grew by 5.5 percent (112,672 visitors).
Unfortunately, following this expansive growth, 2014-2015 saw significant reductions in tourist numbers, declining by 32 percent in 2014. A huge part of this was due to short sighted entry requirements, passed in 2014. Essentially, the South African government tightened entry requirements, forcing potential travelers to apply to visa officers in-person. In the case of China, there were only two offices in the country that travelers could apply to: Beijing or Shanghai. As McKinsey points out, traveling to these two cities (even within China) can be more expensive than leaving the country for South Africa.
Luckily, the government quickly saw the error of their ways; in 2016, the stricter visa requirements were finally lifted, with an immediate effect. That same year, Statistics South Africa found that Chinese tourist numbers grew by a whopping 93 percent. As a result, the SA government opened up more visa processing centers in provincial capitals like Chengdu and Guangzhou.
Hopefully, South Africa can continue to capitalize on Asian travelers, especially those hailing from China. As such travelers branch out from their traditional, Europe-based destinations, South Africa is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this shift. After all, where else can you surf, hike, bike, and party in the same day–or even the same city, as in the case of Cape Town? What other nations have such a stunning, well-preserved diversity of nature and culture?
One simply hopes that the government will recognize this fact, and encourage Asian travelers to continue visiting. Why kill your golden goose? Consider that facilitating everyone’s ability to visit the nation is a beneficial, win-win situation for all involved: South Africans benefit from job opportunities and income, the nation raises its profile overseas, and foreign visitors experience the unique, unforgettable destination that is South Africa.