This past weekend I attended the Bastille Day Festival in Franschhoek.
To make the most of the weekend event, we decided it would a) be cheaper to stay over than have to drive back on both the Saturday and Sunday and b) there’d be the added benefit of enjoying the beauty of the town when we weren’t at the festival.
Franschhoek, without question is a beautiful place – one that should be explored and enjoyed by the local community and tourists alike.
The stark and lush greenness of the town in the valley has the cosy charm that forms part of the aesthetic and atmospheric village that makes for the perfect breakaway destination when you just want to get away from it all.
But while I certainly enjoyed the buzz and beauty of the place and the village, one thing stood out for me is that the people who were able to enjoy the festivities were mostly foreigners. And the reason for that has a lot to do with access to so many of the things available in and around the area being very expensive.
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The thing is, it’s not just a Franschhoek problem – for me this highlighted that we’ve got a problem in South Africa and that is that we can barely afford to be tourists in our own country.
No one denies that there’s a need for businesses (especially in small places that rely on events and festivals) to make an income or that tourism offer opportunities for job creation – but if you’re visiting a place where, for example, restaurants offer meals where sometimes the cheapest item on the menu starts from R170 and up, you’re isolating the very communities who form part of the daily heartbeat of the city or town.
But, the restaurants in our towns and city are the least of our problems.
Over the weekend I saw two local families turning away from a tourist spot because of the entry fee and it broke my heart because a lot of these attractions also form part of our history and heritage.
Why is the industry making it so hard for South Africans to enjoy being tourists in their own country?
Many of us cannot always (if at all) afford to travel internationally, so we should at least be able to visit places in and around the country right?
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I’d love to be able to visit Robben Island (shockingly I’ve never been, but not because I’ve never wanted to), but the boat price is R360 per person. That’s very steep. Table Mountain’s cable car rides? Morning trips are R293 per adult, afternoon trips R277.
It’s not cheap when you have a strict budget to work with and often aren’t able to set aside something for local outings because the cost of living is already so pricey.
To be fair, there are some businesses who recognise the need to accommodate locals. Table Mountain cableway allows you a free trip on your birthday, while Zeitz Mocaa museum allows South African and African citizens free entry on Wednesdays between 10am – 1pm.
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There are also many places where you can go for free in almost every city around South Africa, but it's disheartening to be limited to visit those spots only.
We reached out to Traveller24 editor, Selene Brophy and asked her to weigh in on the debate.
The most surprising thing we discovered?
Domestic tourism actually brings more money to the South African economy than international tourism does.
“Many are not aware that domestic tourism is a bigger contributor to the South African economy than international tourism. Travel and tourism’s direct spend contributed about R119m – contributing 3% to the GDP economy in 2015 – making it one of the fast growing sectors – yet domestic tourism is on the decline, according to StatsSA.”
“Regardless of an increase of 3.2% in the number of adult domestic tourists travelling in 2015 compared to 2014, there was a decline of 12.5% in domestic tourism trips during the same period.
“According to the latest data, in January 2018, 3 917 911 travellers (arrivals, departures and transits) passed through South Africa's ports of entry.
• They were made up of 1 055 268 South African residents and 2 862 643 foreign travellers.
• Foreign arrivals, 1 598 893 were made up of 95 904 non-visitors and 1 502 989 visitors.
• Tourists increased by 6,1% from 1 040 534 in January 2017 - of which 795 877 were local tourists.
“So there is huge economy of scale irony in that it is so expensive to be a tourist your own country – especially a popular city such as Cape Town – keeping mind that StatsSA data also shows SA’s most visited provinces were often Limpopo, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal during 2015 and 2016 for domestic tourism.
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So why aren’t South Africans aren’t travelling?
Selene adds that studies conducted by SA Tourism list “affordability, time constraints and no reason to travel” as the main reasons why locals don’t travel, and that locals seem more inclined towards a “culture of shopping than one of experiences and adventure.”
That’s such a shame, because I think our country has so much to offer. Of course the affordability issue is the big issue here and Selene does mention that there is “so much to do from a travel and tourism perspective that does not need to break the bank – think natural heritage sites, beaches and world-class nature reserves.”
“But of course big attractions, events, eating out and nightlife do require some forking out.”
What can be done to make travelling more affordable and attractive for South Africans?
“Key stakeholders have identified that seasonality needs to be improved,” says Selene.
• ensuring events and attractions don’t plug all their efforts into the peak summer season - giving locals reason to travel throughout the year and not just school holidays for example.
• considering dynamic pricing – speaking to the low season is considered more favourable as it doesn’t leave international visitors feeling like they’re being milked.
Selene adds that setting a budget for travel could also go a long way in helping.
“At Traveller24 we are big advocates in dedicating a portion of your monthly budget to your travel goals.
You can never get your planning going early enough – picking a destination and experience makes it easy to get the rest of your travel dream board going.“
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Check out Traveller24’s budget centric City guides below:
• 18 Family fun things to do on a budget in Cape town
• 35 best budget friendly things to do in Durban
• 17 budget friendly activities to get up to in Port Elizabeth
• A cheapskate's guide to Joburg