Every cloud has a silver lining, they say – for foreign tourists in search of the ultimate safari vacation, South Africa’s currency, the rand, makes for very shiny prospects as it has devalued by between 22% and 32% against major currencies over the past 12 months, meaning that dollars, euros and pounds buy so much more in South Africa.
Savvy travellers, who choose the right time of year, and perhaps lesser-known but just as good destinations, are lapping up the opportunity to experience South Africa’s “world in one country” at an impressive discount.
While the global economic downturn of the past few years put a dampener on international travel, those who stayed closer to home for their vacations are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and, thanks to the weak rand, they’re heading in their droves down that tunnel straight towards sunny South Africa!
The promise of an international tourism boost from South Africa’s hugely successful hosting of the Soccer World Cup in 2010 has been realised as visitor numbers have grown steadily ever since. That growth is now spiking upwards, boosted by the rand having lost so much of its value.
In the country’s Eastern Cape province, luxury game reserves are seeing increased numbers of visitors particularly from North America & Europe mapping out itineraries that maximise South Africa’s advantages of great value together with diverse experiences. From the Cape winelands, Robben Island, Table Mountain, history and seaside splendour of Cape Town – placed by the New York Times at the“No. 1 place to visit in 2014”–they’re heading along the scenic Garden Route for a Big 5 luxury safari experience in a malaria-free area.
The beauty of this route (Cape Town-Garden Route-Safari) is that it can be done in either direction with an easy self-drive along the coast, with a mid-way stop-over in any number of scenic small towns, at unbelievable prices (a 10-night itinerary spending 4 nights in Cape Town, 3 nights on the Garden Route and 3 nights on safari, including car hire and meals, will cost approximately US$1100/GBP650between May and August 2014). For those who prefer not to drive in an unfamiliar country, there are chauffeur-drive and shuttle options, or flights spanning the Garden Route between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
Adding to South Africa’s value proposition is that all costs are in rands, rather than the US dollars preferred by many other African countries. This means that, whilst South Africa has become cheaper due to its weakened currency, prices in neighbouring African countries like Botswana and Zambia have remained the same.
A quick shop around on prices reveals that the same bottle of red wine on a London menu at £25 (R450) is no more than £8 (R150) on a local restaurant’s wine list. A pint of beer that costs US$6 (R65) in New York will set the tourist back around a US$1.75 (R20) in a trendy Cape Town pub! For the price of a meal in one of London’s celebrity chef restaurants (£40-£50, or R720-R900, without drinks), tourists can indulge in a multi-course wine-paired dinner at a top winelands restaurant in the Cape. For South Africa, that’s really the top end of the scale and there are plenty of excellent restaurants where dinner and wine will make a much smaller dent in the tourist’s wallet.
And travellers are making the most of that extra value – latest figures from South African Tourism, the country’s official marketer, show that foreign tourists are spending on average two days longer in South Africa than they used to 3 years ago. Due to the rand’s devaluation, these “extra” two days are essentially for free because the tourists are spending the same amount of dollars or pounds as they used to 3 years ago.