South Africa

South African tourism boom

South Africa’s tourism sector is showing strong signs of growth after taking a large hit from the Covid-19 pandemic and has now largely returned to pre-pandemic levels.

According to Investec economist Lara Hodes, the income derived from the tourist accommodation industry rose notably at the start of this year.

This income grew by 14.9% year-on-year at the beginning of 2024, following December 2023’s 10.0% lift.

Hodes said this is despite the moderation in growth rates as base effects created by the pandemic have worn off.

Receipts from the tourism accommodation sector at R2.65 billion for January 2024 are now in line with levels recorded before the onset of the pandemic.

She said this shows the resilience of South Africa’s tourism sector, which was one of the most adversely affected by Covid lockdown regulations.   

A breakdown by accommodation type indicates that the hotels category and the “other” accommodation grouping – which includes lodges, bed-and-breakfast establishments, self-catering establishments and ‘other’ establishments not elsewhere classified – were primarily responsible for January’s significant increase.

However, the market’s guest houses and guest farms segment continued to disappoint.

A look at tourist numbers reveals that 971,846 travellers arrived in South Africa in January 2024, a 14.4% increase from January 2023. 

Just over 20% of these travellers stemmed from overseas countries, with the majority from Europe, mostly the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. 

Disappointingly, traveller numbers from the USA, a significant tourist market for South Africa, declined by 14.3% in January. 

However, the number of tourists arriving from Brazil jumped by 170.5%, while traveller numbers from China remained buoyant, rising by a further 136.8% at the beginning of 2024.     

Indications provided by February 2024’s tourism figures show that international tourist numbers accelerated in the second month of the year, growing by 18.3% when compared to February 2023.

Hodes explained that a robust tourism industry is essential to sustainable economic growth in South Africa as it has links to many other industries. 

“Dealing with the country’s numerous challenges, including electricity and water constraints, visa impediments, and heightened crime, is vital in this regard,” she said.


Data from NightsBridge, a technology company that links accommodation establishments to the websites that sell their rooms, has shown that South Africa’s tourism industry may have already rebounded to above pre-pandemic levels.

They found that bookings in the first ten months of 2023 exceeded those in the same period in 2019. 

NightsBridge has the largest inventory of bed nights in Africa, with over 10,000 properties in 41 countries.

It said the tourism industry in South Africa has significantly grown since the onset of Covid lockdowns in 2020.

Data compiled by NightsBridge shows a clear upward trend, with total bookings from January to October 2023 exceeding those from the same period in 2019 by 7.4%.

This increase indicates that the industry has not only rebounded from the impacts of the pandemic but is also experiencing expansion beyond pre-pandemic levels.

Analysis of consistent data from 4,122 NightsBridge clients since January 2019 illustrates a 9.4% year-over-year increase in bookings from 2022 to 2023. 

Online bookings, in particular, have shown substantial growth, with a 17.3% rise compared to pre-pandemic figures.

The rise in online bookings suggests that consumer behaviour has shifted more towards digital solutions, a trend accelerated by the pandemic but sustained by the convenience and efficiency of online platforms. 

NightsBridge’s data supports evidence from Airbnb that tourism has rapidly rebounded in South Africa and has surpassed 2019 levels. 

Airbnb’s regional lead for Middle East Africa, Velma Corcoran, said the platform has seen a 33% increase in domestic travel from 2019 to 2023.

The company has doubled its contribution to South Africa’s GDP since 2019, and the economic benefit has not been concentrated in the country’s main tourism hotspots.

According to a report from Genesis Analytics, the service contributed more than R23.5 billion to the economy and created almost 50,000 jobs in 2022.


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