While foreign visitors to South Africa in December 2022 increased significantly since the previous year, the number is still at only 69% of visitors in December 2019 - before the pandemic.
This is according to data on arrivals in December 2022 that was released by Statistics SA on Tuesday.
Looking at data for the entire year, the only source market that exceeded its 2019 level in 2022 was Russia. Compared to 2019, arrivals from Russia in 2022 jumped to 107%.
For Lee-Ann Bac, director at the specialist tourism unit of international consulting firm BDO, the December 2022 data is, on the whole, disappointing.
"It shows [that] in December 2022, the total number of foreign tourists to SA was 677 838. This is a big jump from the 263 108 visitors in [December] 2021," says Bac.
However, it isn't nearly what SA achieved in 2019, namely 981 038 foreign tourists.
"Overall, demand from other African countries was low in December 2022," says Bac.
She says the release of the December numbers means an overview of the whole of 2022 is now possible, showing that during the year, SA received 7.12-million foreign visitors, of which 1.57-million were from overseas and 5.54-million from other African countries.
In 2022, total foreign arrivals were at 70% of 2019 levels; overseas arrivals at only 60% of 2019 levels; and arrivals from other African countries at 73% of 2019 levels.
Compared to 2019, certain source markets have rebounded fairly well, according to Bac. Arrivals from the US were at 80% of 2019 levels, arrivals from Russia at 107%, and arrivals from the UK at 71% of 2019 levels.
Most European countries have been slow to rebound, however, still being at less than 65% of 2019 numbers.
"As can be expected, [arrivals from] countries that were slow at reopening their borders are way behind 2019 numbers," says Bac. For example, arrivals from Australia are still at only 52% compared to 2019."
At the same time, in 2022, SA still only received 14% of the number of Chinese arrivals compared to 2019.
Hotels and attractions
Western Cape spokesperson for finance and economic opportunities, Mireille Wenger, has said that data from the South African Hotel Review, complied by STR, shows that hotel occupancy for the Western Cape stood at 72% in December 2022, representing a full recovery rate of 106% when compared to December 2019 (68.1%).
According to Wrenelle Stander, CEO of the Western Cape's official tourism, trade, and investment promotion agency (Wesgro), data from Airports Company SA (ACSA) shows Cape Town International Airport's domestic terminal recorded a year-high of 570 000 two-way passengers for December 2022.
International passenger performance hit 96% in December 2022 compared to December 2019 - with 270 000 two-way passengers passing through the terminal. This is a recovery of 72% in domestic and 98% in international visitors compared to the December 2019 festive period.
Cape Town Tourism's latest travel figures reveal tourists' growing appetite for the Mother City's attractions, which also experienced a significant recovery. Compared to 2019 figures, Groot Constantia reported a 71% recovery, Kirstenbosch was at 76%, Robben Island was at 89%, Chapmans Peak was at 95%, and Table Mountain was at almost 100%.
Cape Town's GrandWest Casino and Entertainment World reported a total footfall of 95% of its 2019 figures this festive season. The entertainment destination said its retailers' revenues surpassed 2019 numbers as they capitalised on the increase in traffic and extended trading hours.
Cape Town Tourism's survey of its members found that 85% said December's performance was much better than in 2019. The respondents said the primary international source markets were the US, Germany, and the UK.