International hotel bookings in South Africa are at their highest point since the start of the pandemic, according to an update on the latest World Hotel Index by SiteMinder, a global hotel booking platform, which reported a recovery to 90,85% for South Africa against 2019 numbers this week. The result is a staggering increase on the 20,04% recorded by SiteMinder for South Africa mid-July, and far above the global average of 79,96%.
SiteMinder represents thousands of hotels in more than 150 markets, with links to 450 hotel booking channels globally, through its guest acquisition platform. Its World Hotel Index is based on the results of all the hotels that use its platform in any given location, a spokesperson explained. They also said that the percentages offer a year-on-year comparison to the same day.
SiteMinder’s latest report showed 11 countries had manage to surpass pre-pandemic levels. South Africa hit the 90,85% on Tuesday November 23, 2021.
The tech company was especially impressed by the pace at which South Africa’s recovery had accelerated, and said hotels were working hard to encourage bookings, using dynamic pricing and reacting to new consumer preferences and demand.
SiteMinder described an overall sense of optimism among customers, with international travellers returning and restrictions on travel to South Africa being removed or easing globally.
A SiteMinder spokesperson added: “Travellers also share this optimism and this is reflected in the World Hotel Index, with hotel guests from overseas set to increase to over 50% of all arrivals in the vital January and February period. It is also positive to see a major marketing drive taking place to showcase South Africa to the world as a tourism and business destination.”
SiteMinder believed hotels that were investing in technology to provide customers with a “smooth, seamless and personalised” experience were best positioned to capture returning business.
“One of the priorities we have emphasised to hotels since the start of the pandemic has been the need to ensure they are ready to capture both domestic and international travel, as and when it returns. We have found that some hotels, especially small ones, only feel they have the resources to start re-assessing their online commerce strategies now that bookings are growing, which means that they are not currently taking full advantage of the recovery,” said the report.
Tracking SA’s recovery
Neil Hughes is MD of Providence Hospitality, which represents a portfolio of nine hotels and guest houses spread across South Africa. He supported SiteMinder’s view of the market, saying: “We have seen a huge pick-up in international bookings for Providence Hospitality’s South African properties this month.” Hughes said: “We have noticed differing levels of recovery in international bookings, depending on international demand for a region, the property’s positioning in the market and the accessibility of a particular area. There has been particularly strong international demand for high end properties in the Winelands region and for coastal Western Cape properties that are easily accessible from Cape Town. KZN properties are still relying heavily on domestic markets.”
International bookings have risen for Providence properties in places like Stellenbosch, Knysna and Saldanha Bay. Said Hughes: “For example, 91% of the bookings made in the last 14 days (around mid November) for Banhoek Lodge in Stellenbosch have been from international markets, predominantly originating from Germany, Russia, Mexico and Singapore. This increase in international bookings is also reflected in Booking.com area reports which indicate that 65% of the OTA’s Stellenbosch bookings for the same period were generated from inbound markets. Villa Paradisa, our high-end guest house in Knysna, reported that 73% of bookings made in the last 14 days originated from outside of South Africa, while Saldanha Bay Hotel on the West Coast reported that 74% of its bookings for the same period were generated from international markets.
“Meanwhile, KZN South Coast property, San Lameer Resort, Hotel and Spa, reports that 80% of its bookings made in the 14 days prior to mid-November were domestic bookings. This is not unusual for the property, which has always attracted strong support from local travellers.”
After nearly two years of travel restrictions, Volker Heiden, Area Vice President Sub-Saharan Africa at Marriott International, was also pleased to see a significant uptake in international bookings across the group. In addition to the already strong local demand, Marriott expects a further increase in bookings in the lead up to the festive season.
Heiden said international bookings currently account for a significant percentage of reservations. “What we are also seeing is a surge in domestic travel, which is great news. We’ve always had strong domestic demand, and in recent weeks, we have observed a further increased demand for domestic leisure locations such as Kruger Gate, Clarens and Garden Route.”
Heiden said that the recovery of foreign source markets has varied across the board. “For South Africa, in particular, our markets recovered later than other comparable markets due to the 3rd wave of COVID-19 hitting the country during the winter months of 2021,” he explained.
Providence reported strong recovery from the source markets of Germany, France, the UK, Russia, the Netherlands, Mexico, Belgium, the UAE, Switzerland and Malta.
A brighter 2022
Because booking lead times remained very short, Hughes said November and December occupancies had picked up nicely, but he expected that January and February occupancies would only show significant improvement closer to visitors’ travel dates.
Providence was optimistic about a strong start to 2022. “After a challenging 18 months it is wonderful to see international bookings picking up again together with ongoing support from our loyal South African customers. For the first time in 18 months we are beginning to yield rates upwards and while we still have to work hard for good occupancy levels we are expecting a good summer season and hopefully a great 2022.”
Heiden said: “We are closely monitoring all aspects of global travel and the pandemic impacts on our markets to enable us to be optimally responsive, flexible and adaptable across South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. For 2022 we expect the business’s recovery to continue and the upswing of travel to steadily increase, subject to any new waves or restrictions. We are following a cautious but determined pathway to business recovery.”