Americans have become SA’s biggest overseas tourists – overtaking Brits and Germans

Business Insider SA

South Africa tourism
(Getty Images)
  • Visitors from the United Kingdom accounted for 30% of all overseas tourists in South Africa prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • But travel restrictions, including the controversial red list, dropped the number of incoming UK tourists by around 90%.
  • The same is true for tourists from Germany, which has traditionally been South Africa’s second-highest source market for overseas tourists, behind the UK.
  • South Africa’s primary source market for tourists in 2021 was the United States, with almost 72,000 Americans having arrived by December.
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South Africa welcomed more tourists from the United States in 2021 than from anywhere else overseas, with American visitors being far more common than those from the United Kingdom and Germany.

Prior to the global Covid-19 pandemic, European visitors accounted for roughly 60% of overseas tourists entering South Africa annually. Tourists from North America – the US and Canada combined – accounted for just 17%.

But the pandemic turned international travel on its head, with border closures, flight suspensions, and fear driving down tourism.

The number of overseas tourists visiting South Africa dropped by almost 80% in 2020, as the world entered hard lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19. The following year was even worse, with overseas tourists dropping by a further 50%, as new Covid-19 variants and waves of infections led to further travel restrictions.

Just under 330,000 overseas tourists came to South Africa between January and November in 2021, according to Stats SA’s latest report on tourism and migration. Before the pandemic, roughly 2.4 million tourists arrived during the same period.

This major upset to global travel also saw major changes to South Africa’s key tourism source markets.

The UK has traditionally been South Africa’s main source market, with more visitors arriving from here than from anywhere else in the world. Of all European tourists to South Africa, those from the UK have consistently accounted for around 30%.

South Africa tourism
(Statistics South Africa: Tourism and migration November 2021, released on 25 January 2022)

This all changed during the pandemic, with the UK imposing some of the strictest restrictions on travellers from South Africa. Being on the UK’s red list meant that travellers from South Africa needed to endure a ten-day quarantine in a state-managed hotel at their own cost of £2,285 (around R47,000).

South Africa was removed from the UK’s red list in early October. The number of UK tourists arriving in South Africa in November increased by more than 60% compared to the month prior, with travel agents reporting a surge in bookings. But the discovery of the Omicron variant at the end of November saw South Africa relegated back to the UK’s red list.

The UK’s proportion of European tourists travelling to South Africa in 2021 dropped to 18% and to under 10% of pre-pandemic levels.

Travellers from Germany, which has traditionally wrangled with the US for second spot on South Africa’s list of key source tourism markets, outnumbered UK visitors in 2021. But due to its own harsh travel restrictions imposed for much of the year, the number of German tourists arriving in South Africa dropped by around 85% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

South Africa’s primary source market for tourists in 2021 was the US. The number of American arrivals almost equalled the combined total of UK and German tourists.

Almost 72,000 Americans arrived in South Africa by December 2021, which is just 0.1% down from the year prior, compared to the 50% drop in overall overseas volumes.

The US’ restrictions on travel from South Africa were also in place for most of the year, but unlike those imposed by European countries, was largely targeted at barring entry for foreign nationals. Fully vaccinated American citizens were allowed to return to the US, without having to endure a mandatory quarantine, during the travel ban.

Like the UK and Germany, the US reimposed a ban following the discovery of Omicron, but this has since been rescinded.

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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