Tourist arrivals have fallen slightly in 2019, compared with the same period in 2018, according to Stats SA.

The most recent statistics on tourism and migration, released last week, record some 6 782 362 arrivals in the period January to August 2019, against 6 885 371 between January and August 2018. The overall decline was 103 009 arrivals.

The numbers represented tourists from destinations spread around the world, with a relatively large number coming from Europe (998 635 arrivals were reported for the January to August period in 2018, and 964 208 in 2019) and Africa (5 183 865 in 2018 and 5 113 652 in 2019). Tourist numbers from Australasia dipped somewhat, while those from the Americas held broadly steady. There was a very slight increase in arrivals from the Middle East and Asia.

Tourist numbers from China – a prime target market – were down from 63 405 to 61 376.

Overall, around 75% of arrivals were from elsewhere in Africa, a little over 24% from elsewhere in the world, with the balance being ‘unspecified’ in official data.

Christelle Grohmann, tourism specialist at BDO, a professional services firm, said that as tourism numbers were growing, South Africa’s failings here could not be ascribed only to a tough world economy. It was imperative that South African society as a whole made tourists feel welcome and well-catered for. Decisions made by the government as well as incidents of xenophobia had a negative impact on visitors.

The fall in African tourists – often well-heeled visitors intending to spend money – was particularly to be regretted, she said.

South Africa has pinned great hopes for decades on expanding its tourism sector as a driver of economic growth and development. Over the past few years, an onerous visa system has been held to have been a significant disincentive to this.