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Tourism South Africa

#SAelections24: Insights on tourism dynamics from a CEO's lens

As 2024 unfolds, marked by an unprecedented level of global political engagement, it also serves as a crucial reminder of the foundational principles that guide us.
Source: Element5 Digital via
Source: Element5 Digital via Pexels

I recently revisited two cornerstone documents of our nation—the Freedom Charter (1955) and the Preamble to our Constitution (1996). These readings have profoundly reminded me of our commitment to justice, equality, and human dignity, principles that should guide our responses to the upcoming elections and their impact on tourism.

Excerpt from the Freedom Charter (1955):

"The people shall govern! All national groups shall have equal rights! The people shall share in the country's wealth! The land shall be shared among those who work it! All shall be equal before the law!"

Excerpt from the preamble to the South African Constitution (1996):

"We, the people of South Africa, Recognise the injustices of our past; Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land; Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity."

These declarations resonate deeply as we navigate the complexities of an election year, where tourism and politics intersect significantly.

The fanatical electioneering and mixed messaging from various political parties and independent candidates have brought to light a delicate balance between governance and the pulse of the people—some messages make us pause and reflect, while others alarmingly remind us how distant some manifestos and claims by parties are from the realities of our country and its foundational values.

The influence of elections on tourism:

Elections often bring a mixture of anticipation and uncertainty—emotions that can significantly influence tourist behaviours. Destinations known for their political stability tend to attract more visitors, while those experiencing electoral turbulence might see a temporary decline in tourist arrivals. For instance, tourists may choose to avoid regions where elections could potentially lead to unrest or disruption, directly impacting local economies that depend on tourism revenues.

Case studies and strategic adaptations:

Doing a bit basic desktop research including asking ChatGPT; and looking at past election years in both developed and developing countries, we see varying degrees of impact on their tourism sectors during election periods. Some destinations might experience a surge in domestic travel as locals travel more within their own country due to uncertainties about travelling abroad during such times.

In Brazil, for instance, local festivals and national elections often see an increase in domestic participation but a dip in international visitors, who might perceive the atmosphere as potentially unstable.

For the tourism industry and Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs), mitigating the negative impacts of election periods involves strategic marketing campaigns that reinforce the perception of stability and safety.

Additionally, promoting domestic tourism can help stabilise the industry when international visitor numbers dwindle. This strategy not only supports the local economy but also strengthens internal cohesion by encouraging citizens to explore their own country.

Long-term implications and opportunities:

Post-election periods can also provide unique opportunities for tourism growth. New government policies may lead to improved infrastructure, enhanced safety measures, and increased marketing abroad.

Successful elections can boost a country's global image, attracting more tourists drawn by a newly stable political environment, aligned with the values enshrined in our founding documents.

The example of South Africa's peaceful transition in the 1994 elections not only stabilised the nation but also significantly boosted international interest and tourism.

According to an article by Koh Ewe, "2024 is not just an election year. It’s perhaps THE election year. Globally, more voters than ever in history will head to the polls as at least 64 countries (plus the European Union)—representing a combined population of about 49% of the people in the world—are meant to hold national elections, the results of which, for many, will prove consequential for years to come."

The record number of global elections in 2024 presents both challenges and opportunities—a dynamic that requires careful analysis and proactive management to harness the full potential of tourism to foster economic and cultural exchanges across borders, all while adhering to the values that define us as a nation.

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