South Africa is welcoming more overseas travellers but still only a third of pre-Covid arrivals

Business Insider SA, compiled by Luke Daniel

South Africa welcomed a total of 267,587 overseas visitors in the first quarter of 2022, according to Stats SA.

That's an increase of 45% on the previous quarter and a whopping 537% spike compared to the first three months of 2021, when the world was still deep in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although these increasing traveller volumes point to a recovery in the tourism sector, pre-pandemic levels of overseas arrivals are still a long way off. South Africa has only welcomed 37% of overseas arrivals recorded in the first quarter of 2019.

More overseas travellers have visited South Africa in the first three months of 2022 than at any other point since the Covid-19 pandemic gripped the country more than two years ago.

South Africa's embattled tourism industry is slowly recovering after more than two gruelling years of Covid-19 and its associated lockdown restrictions. Border closures, flight cancellations, and onerous entry requirements – coinciding with consecutive waves of the pandemic – cut nearly 500,000 jobs from the country's tourism sector.

Recent data from Airports Company South Africa and Stats SA show that traveller confidence is on the rise, led by domestic movements.

Overseas travellers, vital to the tourism industry's survival, are also returning to South Africa, but at nowhere near levels last seen before the Covid-19 pandemic.

A total of 267,587 overseas visitors came to South Africa in the first quarter of 2022, most of them from Europe and, more specifically, the United Kingdom, according to Stats SA's recently published tourism and migration data.

Overseas arrivals have increased by 45% compared to the visitor numbers counted during the final quarter of 2021. Traffic during the busy holiday season would've likely been much higher were it not for the discovery of the Omicron variant, which saw swift and stringent travel bans placed specifically on South Africa.

Compared to the first quarter of 2021, when South Africa and the world at large were still deep in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic, overseas visitors have increased by more than 537% a year later.

The focus for the tourism sector, and all industries benefitted by the movement of international travellers, is for arrivals to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

Most experts believe that international travel will only return to pre-pandemic levels in 2024, at the earliest, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).

This slow rate of recovery is echoed by Stats SA's comparison of overseas visitors in 2019 and arrivals in 2022.

Compared to pre-pandemic traveller volumes, overseas arrivals in South Africa are still only at 37% of levels recorded in the first quarter of 2019, when the country welcomed more than 700,000 tourists.