Sunday, August 22, 2010

Beware perceptions that can harm tourism in South Africa

What can influence tourism and our South African accommodation industry more than perception? The euphoria of having successfully hosted the World Cup 2010 soccer tournament has hardly worn off, and many are using this to forecast significant growth in the number of international visitors to South Africa. It seems to me that the jury is still out on the number of foreign visitors to South Africa for the World Cup, but numbers like 200,000 seem to be gaining more credence. This is significantly down on the original estimates of the organizers who were expecting between 350,000 and 500,000. The havoc that was caused by these projections and the perception by the world that it was a great rip-off have been well-publicized. One ponders what the reason could be for such inaccurate estimates by FIFA and the WC organisers? We know that the world recession popped its ugly head up during the planning, and was undoubtedly a factor.

Another factor that should not be excluded is that of perception. Yes, we all take delight in the many positive responses by visitors to our country during the world cup, and the relatively few reports of crime that appear to have affected tourists during this time. We are reassured then that the future for the tourist industry looks bright ahead. It may come as a surprise to find that some overseas journals reported that 1000’s incidents of crime were perpetrated on tourists during the World Cup, although we did not see this in our own press. South Africa has so many attractions and so much to offer the world, but one wonders whether the world at large has really changed its perception of an unsafe and crime-ridden South Africa.

Newsweek is a prestigious publication that is widely read throughout the developed world and particularly in the USA. Note should be taken of their publication of the top 100 countries of the world, and where our own country ranks in their survey, because this is how perceptions are formed. When I took a job a few years ago in Saudi Arabia, friends and family were horrified because of their perception of life in such a country. In the Newsweek survey South Africa was rated 82 out of 100 whereas Saudi Arabia ranked 64th.
NEWSWEEK stated that their objective was to rank the countries which would provide someone born today with the very best opportunity to live a healthy, safe reasonably prosperous and upwardly mobile life. For this special survey, then, NEWSWEEK chose five categories of national well-being—education, health, quality of life, economic competitiveness, and political environment—and compiled metrics within these categories across 100 nations. A weighted formula yielded an overall list of the world’s top 100 countries. Finland topped the list followed by Switzerland, Sweden and Luxembourg. The country which rated highest in Africa was Tunisia with ranking of 65

It is worth looking at how South Africa scored in the various aspects that were rated :
Education 58.25
Health 32.39
Quality of life 46.55 (compare this to Saudi Arabia at 66.2)
Economic dynamism 59.57
Political environment 76.34 ( really good for an African country)

Under "quality-of-life" were considered such things as income equality, poverty, gender gap, homicides and unemployment. A life expectancy of 49 years rounds off the rather dismal picture in which the only really positive ranking is that of our political environment.
For full details see the survey :

What does the Newsweek survey have to do with tourism in South Africa? Perhaps nothing directly at all, but hopefully the authorities will be concerned at the perception of our country that is portrayed to the developed and developing world from where we source the valuable bulk of our tourists. Add to this the aggression and hooliganism that is being portrayed to the world during the current strike of the civil service, with people reported to be dying from lack of health care due to picketing strikers, and one need not ask whether this is the sort of image that will entice people to put up with the cost and tedium of the long haul flights to our shores to visit and enjoy our many attractions and the wonderful beaches of Cape Town . Many will continue to see South Africa as just another part of a backward and unsafe Africa, and look to other popular destinations. If our government is really dedicated to growing tourism there is a need to address many seemingly unrelated social issues.

By Dennis Cook : Horizon Holiday Cottages,  Noordhoek
affordable Cape Town accommodation


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