After many years of tourist domination from the United Kingdom for South Africa, German tourists have become the number one source of tourism during the current as well as the 2011/2012 tourist season, as the recession in the UK continues to depress tourist arrivals to Cape Town from the UK.

At the world’s largest tourism expo and conference ITB (Internationale Toerismus-Boerse), which ends today, Minister of Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk opened the South Africa stand earlier this week, and said that the work that SA Tourism is doing in traditional markets, and in Europe specifically, is paying off, with a growth in tourism numbers, giving ‘us confidence that the work we are doing to grow tourist arrivals is paying dividends’, reports Business Day.

Earlier this week tourist arrivals were reported to have increased  by 10,4% between January – October 2012 relative to the same period twelve months prior.  German tourists increased by 12% to 204000 in the same period, while tourism to our country grew from 6,8 million to 7,5 million. Minister Van Schalkwyk also thanked the tourist industry for ‘creatively and constructively working together to grow tourism to South Africa.  It is also important that we ensure that every new tourist who arrives in our country is given the best possible experience, as word of mouth remains one of our most important marketing tools’.

At Whale Cottage one quarter to a third of all our guests are repeat visitors, benefiting from the free 11th night offered by our Whale Cottage Loyalty Card, and past guests recommending us to their friends and family.  Our stats for Whale Cottage Camps Bay show that 60% of our February guests were South Africans, 15 % German, and only 7% were from the UK (in the past the UK guests used to make up close to 50% of our summer guests).  Germany, the UK, and the USA remain the top three international tourism source countries, SA Tourism says.  SA Tourism Germany is intensifying its marketing programs, focusing on tour operators in Germany, and is working with travel agents on a one-on-one basis to educate them about South Africa.

Whilst at ITB, Minister van Schalkwyk participated in a joint discussion, with 32 other long-haul destinations (including Australia, New Zealand, Seychelles, Singapore, and the Caribbean), about the ‘discriminatory‘excessive’ taxes that some (unmentioned) European countries are levying on flights from long-haul destinations relative to short flights. Long-haul flights could see a 3-5% price increase, which could impact on passenger numbers and tourist volumes in long-haul destinations, affecting the competitiveness of these destinations, and impacting on employment in these countries. Minister van Schalkwyk had initiated the long-haul discussions.  ‘We therefore call on those countries involved to reconsider these excessive, discriminatory taxes that adversely affect long-haul destinations, including many developing economies’, a joint communiqué said.  Van Schalkwyk was particularly critical of the original introduction of what was meant to be a ‘green tax’, but these monies are no longer being re-invested for environmental purposes.

The growth in German tourists offers opportunities to communicate with this valuable target market in German, both face-to-face and in writing, but also in terms of signage and tourism collateral.  Offering German TV channels such as ZDF or ARD  is an advantage.  The older tourists, many being pensioners who have the time and disposable income to travel, are not very proficient in English, and prefer to stay in German-friendly accommodation establishments.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: Twitter: @WhaleCottage