With a new decade come new and ambitious resolutions, not only for travelers but also for tourism industries around the world. South Africa's tourism resolution for the next 10 years is to reach a goal of 21 million annual tourist arrivals by 2030, roughly doubling the number of visitors the country currently welcomes each year.
The recently launched direct airline service from United Airlines between New York and Cape Town is a great step in the right direction to increase travel from the U.S. to South Africa. It seems that the stage is set for a positive year, and even decade, of travel between the two continents.
However, there is still one big stumbling block when it comes to attracting travelers from the States (or anywhere in the world, for that matter) to South Africa, and that is safety.
"For many, it's the first time visiting southern Africa, and it's a completely new and foreign destination," said Sean Kritzinger, executive chairman of Giltedge Africa.
The main concern travelers raise about South Africa is the high crime rate and murder rate reported in the news, said Jim Holden, president of Holden Safaris. He explained that an American client interested in a safari to South Africa told him that under no circumstances would she visit Cape Town as she had read it was one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
Another group of travelers asked Holden whether it was safe to visit Johannesburg. He says: "My standard reply is to ask why they are asking is it safe, to which the reply was, 'We read about high crime and carjackings in Johannesburg.'"
Holden said, "Americans are not resilient when faced with crime or terrorism abroad, not having experienced it to quite the same extent as, say, Londoners, living through the IRA period [during the Troubles in Ireland] and the more recent al-Qaida London bombings.'"
Realizing the extent of the problem, the South African tourism industry recently decided that it would tackle the safety issue head-on in 2020. Ahead of the December holidays, the government announced it had set aside 40 million rand (roughly $2.7 million) for the implementation of South Africa's new "workable" Tourism Safety Plan that will see the Department of Tourism working hand in hand with the South African Police Services (SAPS) to address crime and ensure tourism safety.
The Tourism Safety Plan includes proactive preventative measures; responsive measures that will ensure a quick operational response in the event of an incident as well as an aftercare program that focuses on victim support.
The private sector in South Africa has also worked relentlessly to tackle safety and security issues in the country. David Frost, of CEO of Satsa, the voice of private-sector inbound tourism in South Africa, explains one of the single-biggest concerns for South Africa's tourism sector has propelled the tourism industry into action to try to change the narrative around the safety and security of tourists visiting South Africa.
Said Frost: "While the vast majority of tourists visiting South Africa enjoy an incident-free vacation, it is incumbent on us as the tourism industry to be proactive and provide tourists with as much guidance as possible to mitigate any potential risks during their stay."
Satsa has for the past six months embarked on a major tourism safety communications campaign to provide the travel industry and its customers with focused and practical advice in response to security concerns, road safety, drought and even health. Frost explained: "We have created a range of FAQs, brochures and articles for the travel industry to use, which can be found on a dedicated website, www.traveltosouthafrica.org, as well as on Satsa's website."
These websites provide continuously updated practical tips, guidelines to self-drive vacations, health information and even information about electricity load-shedding experienced from time to time in South Africa. In addition, Satsa's mobile app notifies users in real time of any areas experiencing issues so that tourists can be informed proactively on areas to avoid.
Unfortunately, however, this important and much-needed information provided by the private sector doesn't always reach the U.S. travel trade.
Frost explained that in his capacity as the chair of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa's Marketing Committee, he attended a high-level industry roadshow in North America last year together with S.A. Tourism. "It was clear in meeting a number of leading operators that the proactive information we are providing does not always filter to our industry partners internationally," he said.
To remedy this, Satsa is exploring a new international associate member category and will be instituting an international membership category for travel industry partners.
Frost said that it falls to everyone in the private sector to work together to ensure that every tourist visiting South Africa does so fully equipped with the knowledge they need to enjoy a safe and life-changing vacation so that they are inspired to return and tell others the great South African story.