Dorine Reinstein
Dorine Reinstein

Tour operators across South Africa are rejoicing at the news that Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in as the country's new president.

After nine scandal-plagued years in office, Jacob Zuma tendered his resignation during a live broadcast on Feb. 14. The 75-year-old Zuma told the nation he disagreed with the way the African National Congress (ANC), the country's ruling political party, had pushed him toward an early exit but said he would accept his party's orders.

President Cyril Ramaphosa was immediately sworn in on Feb. 15. Just one day later, he held his first State of the Nation address, during which he stressed the importance of tourism.

He said: "Tourism is an area which provides our country with incredible opportunities to, quite literally, shine. Tourism currently sustains 700,000 direct jobs and is performing better than most other growth sectors. There is no reason why it can't double in size. We have the most beautiful country in the world and the most hospitable people."

According to the president, the country will enhance support for destination marketing in key tourism markets and take further measures to reduce regulatory barriers and develop emerging tourism businesses. "We call on all South Africans to open their homes and their hearts to the world," he said.

"The appointment of Cyril Ramaphosa as the new president is hugely positive for the image of South Africa, both as a tourism destination and an attractive investment destination," said Henk Graaff, managing director of SW Africa.

AndBeyond CEO Joss Kent agreed, explaining a positive political change in leadership is always good for a country. He added that AndBeyond supports any positive steps taken to improve the country's economy, reduce unemployment and eliminate corruption.

"I think that South Africa's presidential transition has been noticed in a positive light as it signals the dawn of a constructive, new era," said Darren Humphreys, owner of Travel Sommelier, a Safari Pros member.

For Travel Beyond consultant Marguerite Smit, the resignation of President Zuma was long overdue. She said: "Change has been eminent for years, and with an ever-declining economy it could not come at a better time for the people of South Africa. Zimbabwe led with change, and South Africa followed suit shortly thereafter."

All eyes are now on the new president as he is expected to announce a cabinet shortly. "Providing that President Cyril Ramaphosa says and does all the right things to portray a new government that welcomes tourism and foreign investments etc., I believe that it will cast South Africa in a more positive light and therefore attract a modest but steady increase in travelers," said Julian Harrison CEO and owner of Premier Tours, a Safari Pros member.

Sean Kritzinger, co-owner and director of Giltedge Africa, agreed, expressing his hopes that the president will continue to appoint the right people in the correct positions, as this will have a profound effect.

Tour operators were hopeful that the regime change strengthens investor confidence, prompting a stronger currency, which could in turn have an impact on the affordability of South Africa in the eyes of international travelers.

The flipside, according to tour operators, is that with rising investor confidence comes a stronger currency, which could in turn have an impact on the affordability of South Africa in the eyes of international travelers.

Jim Holden, president of Holden Safaris, noted that the rand has already started strengthening against the dollar, making a safari to South Africa more expensive. "With safari prices going up, alternative safari destinations, such as Zimbabwe and Kenya, will gain more attention," he said.

Also, Kent explained that he anticipates that the appreciation of the rand that accompanies this movement will cause a decrease in demand and slow tourism, as other African countries, and particularly East Africa, remain competitively priced.

The onus, said Graaff, will be on suppliers to set their rates responsibly. He explained that most suppliers were quick to increase their rates when the South African currency tumbled. "Now that the currency is bound to strengthen, they'll need to review their rates downward to ensure we don't lose out as a destination," he said.

Kritzinger is positive and said he believes South Africa will remain a favorable destination for international travelers as long as the rand doesn't strengthen more than 15% to 20%. He agreed with Graaff that the South African industry has become a lot more expensive over the past five years. "We will need to cut back prices all-round if our currency strengthens by more than an acceptable margin."

Smit, on the other hand, said she believes that the strengthening rand will simply filter the oversaturated market. She said she can't recall when demand has been higher for South Africa, and she finds it difficult to keep up with inventory, especially during peak season.

Said Smit: "As the rand gains strength, I am sure budget-minded travelers will start to notice a disadvantage compared to recent years, where the value has been incredible! 

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