Why aren't South Africans living up to their full international travel potential?

Cape Town - If international inbound tourism statistics are anything to go by, South Africa certainly is one of the biggest upcoming travel destinations in the world. 

For February alone, our tourism sector experienced an R4bn economy boost from tourist accommodation, and for the 2016/2017 festive season between the period of 9 December 2016 and 14 January 2017, a total of 5 504 022 people moved through SA’s ports of entry - a 3.78% increase on the previous year's numbers. 

ALSO SEE: SA’s travel visa regulations ‘economic suicide as 13 000+ travellers denied entry'

But while overall tourism and international inbound visitors are increasing, South Africans aren't travelling as much. 

This counts for domestic travel, which has been seeing an alarming decline over the past three years, and well as international outbound travel. 

SEE: Alarming 10+m drop in domestic tourism over three years: Why and where to from here?

According to SA’s opposition party the Democratic Alliance, one of the main reasons for the outbound travel reluctance is the archaic visa regulations which require families with minor children to carry unabridged birth certificates. 

Gillian Saunders, deputy CEO Grant Thornton, agrees that the visas are restricting travel, but says South Africans aren't growing their travel culture and we aren't adventurous enough when planning holidays. 

"We like going the same thing over and over again, like going to Plett every year. And for international travel, we aren't really big bookers of independent travel" she tells Traveller24. 

Speaking at World Travel Market Africa, currently underway in Cape Town's International Convention Centre, Saunders also says that while South Africans are financially capable of travelling, the perception of travel affordability as well as our old-school idea of travelling prohibits us from going abroad. 

Grant Thornton statistics show that South Africa’s total outbound travel market was set at 5.5 million travellers in 2016 for all forms of travel. However, of that amount, only an estimated 300 000 travellers travel for leisure internationally.

"Challenges like the exchange rates, the current economic climate and visa restrictions are making it more difficult for South Africans to travel overseas, but the opportunities lie in showing South African travellers that there are new and different opportunities for travel worldwide other than the destinations they currently travel to," Saunders says. 

The more difficult hurdle to overcome, however, apart from the travel technicalities like foreign exchange and visas, is the growing of a travel culture within the growing South African middle-class.  

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