The number of tourists flocking to the Cape may feel like droves, but in the grand scheme of things the numbers are unlikely to have much impact, says advisory firm Grant Thornton. Moreover, the big question isn’t whether the drought will dry up tourism but whether it will leave the tourists themselves … well, high and dry. By MARELISE VAN DER MERWE.
Tourism in the Western Cape, and Cape Town in particular, is unlikely to be affected very severely by the water crisis, says advisory firm Grant Thornton.
Martin Jansen van Vuuren, Director: Tourism, Hospitality and Leisure at Grant Thornton, says although the water shortage is undeniably severe, the overall number of tourists – as well as the overall population – is unlikely to be impacted much.
“December is undoubtedly the busiest time of the year for the Western Cape – especially for Cape Town – and it would appear that tourists descend on the area in their droves, but once we take a closer look at the numbers, we can gain a better perspective on their impact,” he says.
According to Jansen van Vuuren, Cape Town receives around 1.5-million foreign tourists per year, with around 10% of these (approximately 150,000) visiting the city in December. “For a city with a population of around four million, a 4% increase due to foreign tourists is not really a significant increase,” he adds.
Further, he argues, tourists tend to say anything between five and 14 days, with arrivals not only concentrated around Christmas and New Year.
What about local tourists, one might ask?
In recent years, the domestic tourism industry has grown considerably. A larger number of local visitors have made their way to the Western Cape over the festive season – 250,000, in fact.
But, says Jansen van Vuuren, around 290,000 Capetonians leave the city over the same period. The impact – on Cape Town, at least – is not as severe as it would otherwise have been.
Jansen van Vuuren attributes the legendary December traffic to the possibility that local residents who remain at home may be on leave and making more use of the roads.
“We have to be reminded that December is also the time when locals – who may spend most of their time in the suburbs otherwise – descend on the tourism areas in greater numbers, either to show visiting friends and family around, or to enjoy the festive season attractions themselves. This leads to congestion in these areas and it also gives the impression that the city is busier than it may actually be.”
Jansen Van Vuuren believes many hotels and guest houses have taken steps to reduce water consumption, as this leads to cost savings. He argues that measures such as low-flow shower heads, or using seawater in swimming pools, are increasingly common.
But others have argued that the drought has to date not been taken seriously enough by the hospitality industry. According to a column by writer Tom Eaton in October, several randomly selected hotels were not complying with water restrictions when it came to their visiting guests. Across Cape Town, some public places encourage patrons to use water wisely; others do not. Cape Town International Airport, at least, does ask travellers to avoid flushing unless absolutely necessary.
With the City of Cape Town having kicked off Phase One of its extreme demand management plan, businesses will have to start getting on board. Level five water restrictions meant additional restrictions were placed on the commercial sector, with Mayor Patricia de Lille urging commercial water users to install water-saving devices and water-efficient plumbing fittings.
“The managers of commercial properties must with immediate effect ensure that their monthly consumption of the municipal supply of water is reduced by 20% compared with a year ago,” she said. While the industrial sector had shown considerable water savings, she added, the commercial sector had not.
This means that even if tourism doesn’t significantly impact on the drought and vice versa, the drought may well impact on the tourists themselves. Tourism in the Cape has been on a healthy upward trajectory recently. Figures for Q1 in 2017, provided by South African Tourism, showed 472,156 foreign tourist arrivals were recorded in the first quarter – a 6% increase from the same period the previous year, which resulted in a foreign direct spend of R5.7-billion (1.2% more than Q1 in 2016).
In 2016, the Western Cape tourism sector directly supported 319,227 jobs – up by 25,508 jobs in 2015 – and over the same period, tourists spent R38.8-billion in the local economy. So one might ask whether a restriction on the level of comfort they experience may impact on their expenditure.
Wesgro, at least, is confident that there will still be some investment flowing into the local economy. According to the province’s tourism, trade and investment agency, a series of inbound and outbound trips to showcase local businesses resulted in 13 international export deals that would bring R2-billion into the Western Cape. The deals would create nearly 300 jobs, Wesgro said.
The Cape Town International Convention Centre, too, recently reported that it brought in R216-million in revenue over the past financial year, compared to R209-million the previous year. This parallels Jansen van Vuuren’s belief that business travel – which largely falls outside of the festive period – had not been significantly impacted on by the drought.
Jansen van Vuuren believes that although the seriousness of the drought should not be understated, it’s not necessary for foreign visitors to change their travel plans. “For most foreign tourists, visiting South Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and they would have planned and paid for the trip well in advance. They may thus not be in a position to change their plans. Even if they could change their plans, I believe that there is generally an awareness among tourists about any resource scarcity which may exist in the regions where they visit, and this does not act as a deterrent to travel,” he says.
“The key to managing the crucial tourism sector through this crisis is constant awareness and strict monitoring of wastage where it is in our control. The hospitality sector has done a lot in this regard and as long as we continue to use our resources wisely, Cape Town should continue to welcome and host tourists.”
A number of tourism websites offer tips to tourists on water-wise travel. These include choosing water-conscious accommodation and supporting businesses that actively try to save water; turning off taps when they’re not in use (casual rinsing of dishes, letting the tap run while brushing teeth); not doing unnecessary laundry; not flushing unnecessarily (it may be a little off-putting, but it’s less unappealing than not being able to flush at all!); limiting showers to under two minutes, once a day; and always turning off dripping taps. DM
Photo: Boats in harbour with Table Mountain in the background, Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, Western Cape Province, South Africa, 2009. Photo: South African Tourism (flickr)
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