South Africa’s tourism sector on the rise despite security concerns


Cape Town, South Africa

Image: Unsplash

In 2023, South Africa’s tourism industry experienced a resurgence, with international tourist numbers nearing those of pre-pandemic levels. There was a particular increase in the number of U.S. visitors, who can enter South Africa visa-free with just a declaration form.

Though South Africa’s tourism sector is gradually recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still lingering concerns over crime, presenting a hurdle in fully realising the sector’s potential.

South Africa’s visitor statistics and safety measures

From January to November 2023, South Africa welcomed 7.6 million international tourists, as reported by Statistics South Africa. While these figures represent a significant recovery, they still fall short by 17% compared to the 10.2 million visitors in 2019. 

Notably, U.S. tourists showed a 42% increase compared to the previous year, with approximately 370,500 visitors. 

Travel patterns in South Africa by nationality

A number of nationalities have significantly increased tourism numbers in South Africa, adding to the country’s growing tourism sector.

African markets dominate

A significant portion of South Africa’s inbound tourism is driven by visitors from within the African continent, partly thanks to increased flight operations such as those between Malawi and Johannesburg.

From January to July 2023, 3.6 million African travellers visited, marking a 75.8% increase from 2022. Top visiting countries include Kenya and Zimbabwe, with Kenyan arrivals increasing by 110.2% between January and July 2023, and Zimbabwe citizens increasing by 115.6%, compared to the same period in 2022.

Europe arrivals show promise

In the initial 7 months of 2023, Europe accounted for 14.3% of South Africa’s total tourist arrivals (682,828 visitors). This represents a significant 61.5% increase compared to the same timeframe in the previous year.

The United Kingdom led as the top European source of tourists to South Africa, with 204,885 visitors, indicating a 45.7% growth. 

Germany followed suit with a notable 73.3% surge in tourist numbers, bringing in 132,302 visitors. The Netherlands also experienced a substantial increase, with a 60% rise, amounting to 68,421 tourists. Remarkably, Russia’s tourist numbers soared with a 140.8% increase, contributing 15,179 arrivals to South Africa’s tourism sector.

Visitors from the Americas

Visitors from the Americas increased by 59% between January and July 2023, totalling 259,081 arrivals in South Africa. 

The United States accounted for the most arrivals from the Americas (206,015), increasing by 54.5% when compared to 2022 numbers.

Growing Asian market

Asian markets increased by an impressive 91.2% in the first half of 2023, with India accounting for the largest number of arrivals, followed by China. 

Minister De Lille has emphasized the need to address visa regulations and improve air connectivity, especially from the Asia Pacific region, to fully tap into South Africa’s tourism potential.

Addressing crime concerns

Despite the promising influx of tourists, crime remains a concern. The Tourism Monitors program, a $9.5 million initiative by the Department of Tourism, aims to enhance safety but has yet to be fully implemented across all provinces. 

Local governments, such as the City of Cape Town, are also taking measures by deploying additional enforcement and emergency personnel to popular tourist areas. 

The Rosebank Districts in Johannesburg are enhancing safety with their Tourism Ambassador program, providing assistance and monitoring with the help of precinct security.

National Tourism Safety Strategy

Recognizing the importance of safety for tourism, the South African Government, led by Tourism Minister Patricia De Lille, has initiated the National Tourism Safety Strategy. 

This program includes deploying 2,300 tourism monitors at crucial tourist spots to enhance visitor security, supplementing existing police forces.

Enhancing tourism attractiveness amid challenges

The challenges of visa regulations, high crime rates, and an ongoing energy crisis have prompted the private sector to take proactive steps to bolster tourism appeal in South Africa. 

Initiatives like the Secura Traveller tourism safety app provide tourists with access to a range of services, including private security and medical assistance. 

Additionally, South Africa’s Tourism Business Council has launched a global campaign featuring comedian Trevor Noah, further promoting the country’s tourism sector.

As South Africa continues to recover and grow its tourism industry, balancing visitor safety with effective promotion remains crucial to sustain and increase its appeal as a top travel destination.