The tourism sector, a major economic driver in the province, has taken a serious knock with visitor numbers at an all-time low, according to early figures.
Tourist attraction sites such as the Robben Island Museum and Table Mountain recorded a major drop in visitors over the past few months regarded as the high season.
Cape Town Tourism said although there had been an increase in flights to the country since the borders reopened Covid-19, global travel restrictions and South Africa’s own lockdown regulations had a major impact on tourism.
Cape Town, SOUTH AFRICA – December 11 2020: A general view of a tour to the Robben Island Museum.(Photo by Roger Sedres)
"There has been a steady month-on-month increase in flights since we reopened the country’s borders and opened travel, but it’s still down from 2019. The forecast for international arrivals is currently at down 80% year on year from December 2020 to November 2021," Cape Town Tourism CEO, Enver Duminy said.
Robben Island Museum, the World Heritage site, recorded a 97% drop in visitor numbers between September and December compared to the same period in 2019.
Passengers boarding the Madiba 1 ferry to Robben Island in January 2020. The tourist attraction site has been hit by lockdown regulations, recording decline in visitor numbers.Henk Kruger/ African News Agency (ANA)
In 2019 a total of 184 532 people visited the island where former president Nelson Mandela and other political activists were kept during apartheid.
However, in 2020, only 10 947 visitors were recorded between September and December.
Robben Island Museum spokesperson Morongoa Ramaboa said projections for tourism were positive and optimistic until the impact of Covid-19.
"The effects of Covid-19 have been negative in most sectors, with tourism being one of the hardest hit sectors due to impact on gatherings and movement of both locals and foreigners. The economic impact negatively impacted the local consumer with discretionary spend being first items to be cut," Ramaboa said.
She added that tour capacity and frequency was being monitored and might be gradually increased to accommodate demand as and when required.
Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company spokesperson Giselle Esau said there had been a decrease in the number of visitors that used the cable car during December.
"The effects of the pandemic and the resultant closure of international borders along with other related regulations and restrictions is mainly the cause for this drop in numbers," said Esau
She said "anecdotal" reports showed that all categories of visitors (international and domestic) dropped during the period.
"A lot of people decided not to travel to the seaside and coastal destinations over the festive season, and we saw this in our visitor numbers too. We are happy however to see that locals are still keen on visiting our African Wonder on the days that we were open," Esau added.
The impact of Covid-19 on tourism necessitated a change in approach and strategy, said the industry players.
"The domestic market and locals, including the SADEC regional markets have the benefit of being able to visit multiple times in a year.The lockdowns have also highlighted the need to develop appropriate off-site products that would allow visitors to have meaningful and enriching experiences," Ramaboa said.
Duminy said Cape Town would rely on domestic arrivals for the foreseeable future.
"We will need significantly more arrivals to keep the industry ticking over, so part of our plan is to position Cape Town as a favourable holiday destination for South Africans. Where we would usually put a lot of focus on our key international markets, we will place that focus on the domestic market and work with the industry to create enticing staycation packages throughout the year", Duminy added.
However, with vaccinations being rolled out across the globe, Duminy said they were hopeful that international travellers would once again return in droves.
"Lockdown and Covid-19 has shown us that we need to be adaptable and we need to think on our feet. We continue to find that we need to adjust our plans and strategies as regulations change and travel restrictions either lift or are implemented in other parts of the world.
“We have seen that, even though so many things have changed, people still want to travel – and more and more want to do so in and around South Africa right now. We need to show South Africans that visiting Cape Town is safe and that we have something for everyone, but most importantly, it won’t cost an arm and a leg," Duminy said.