South Africa - May 9, 2023 - The South African tourism industry is showing promising signs of recovery, according to Sojern’s latest market insights. The data, which analyses booking trends and travel behaviour, reveals that Q4 2022 bookings remained higher than Q4 2021 and did not see as steep a seasonal drop as 2019 or 2020.
"Our latest data is very encouraging and shows that the South African tourism industry is on the path to recovery. Despite the challenges faced by the industry over the past few years, including the COVID-19 pandemic, and more recently the ongoing pressures of load shedding, we see the resilience of South Africa's tourism sector and the appeal of the country's culture, landscapes, and wildlife continue to attract travellers from around the world,” says Stewart Smith, Sojern’s Managing Director for the Middle East and Africa.
While current flight bookings are slightly lagging 2022 volumes and have yet to recover to 2019 pre-pandemic levels, international travel is returning and made up 65% of travel into South Africa this past high season versus 49% the prior season. The UK is the second highest origin market at 12%, followed by the US at 9%, and Germany at 6%. The report also highlights that international travel is picking up and gaining healthy market share overall; nine out of the top ten market origins show a year-over-year increase from October 2022-March 2023 compared to the same period a year prior. The only major origin country declining in market share is South African domestic travel but it still remains at number one.
When it comes to trip duration, nearly a quarter of flight bookings for domestic trips are for same or next day returns, perhaps indicating that business travel is once again gaining traction. However, travellers crossing oceans are far more likely to book longer trips, with over 75% of travellers outside of Africa staying longer than a week. The numbers also highlight that Europeans tend to plan their trips during summer through to the winter holidays with 66% of total trips being booked for arrival between April-October 2023 versus 47% by MEA travellers. South African hotels could therefore target the European market to book trips during the traditionally lower winter season as well as the high summer season.
According to Sojern’s data, travellers planned their trips further in advance this high season just gone versus last season (Q4 2022-Q1 2023 versus Q4 2021-Q1 2022), particularly among Middle Eastern travellers. European and International travellers also planned further ahead with 33% booking over 91 days in advance versus 25% and 28% respectively the previous year. In addition, Johannesburg (47%) and Cape Town (48%) are the top cities in terms of booking volumes for Europeans, while other travellers tend to prefer flying into Johannesburg.
Digital marketing experts Sojern encourages the hospitality industry to take advantage of the upcoming low season by offering special promotions and packages to attract travellers to their properties. A focus on local marketing efforts and outreach to nearby communities to promote staycations and weekend getaways is an effective way to capitalize on the strong domestic travel intent. Additionally, hotels can use the winter season to renovate and upgrade their facilities, train staff, and overall get ahead for the next high season. By proactively utilizing their quieter months to improve their offerings and market their properties, hotels can increase occupancy year round and bolster revenue in the long run.
"Based on the current figures we are optimistic that the South African tourism industry will continue to grow in the coming years," says Smith. As South Africa enters its winter season, it doesn't mean that hotels should switch off their marketing efforts. Going dark is just not an option in today's environment. People are always searching and booking travel all year round, and we know that travel planning behaviour shifts year over year too, so taking an always-on approach gives you the opportunity to deliver a relevant message to your prospects based on what they are looking for and when they are looking for it. Also, always-on strategies are more effective with a multichannel approach because it allows you to engage with those travellers across channels and formats.”
South African hoteliers can take advantage of Sojern’s Pay on the Stay offering to help drive direct bookings and improve competitiveness against online travel agencies (OTAs). The low-risk, digital marketing package, means hotels only pay a commission after the customer has completed their stay offering a cost-effective solution for strategic digital marketing.