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The U.S. overtook the U.K. to become South Africa’s top overseas tourist market last year, according to a new report released by South African Tourism. There were 14 percent more U.S. visitors to the country in 2021 than in the previous year. 

The U.S. was also responsible for bringing in the most overseas tourist revenue: R2.3 billion (around $134 million). It is estimated that the average tourist spend in 2021 was R31,300 (around $1,830), which is R8,400 (around $491) more per person than in 2019—before the pandemic began. Shopping and leisure activities account for 22 percent and 17 percent of American tourists spending, respectively. 

The report credits United Airlines and Delta Air Lines’ continued service to South Africa when other countries put it on their travel Red Lists with helping the U.S. knock the U.K. off the top spot—a position Great Britain had held since 1994. 

Tourist Profiles

Tourist profile data reveals that 70 percent of U.S. tourists were first-time travelers to South Africa. Aged 45 or younger, they spent between one to two weeks in the country. Overall, last year more than 50% of all tourists came to South Africa for the purpose of vacationing. Data also shows that three-quarters of tourists planned their travel at least a year in advance in contrast to 2019 when between four and 12 months was the norm. The South African tourism body expects the booking cycle to shorten again as travel continues to normalize.

Top Destinations

The northeastern province of Gauteng reclaimed its position as the most visited region for U.S. travelers after being knocked off the top spot in 2019 by the Western Cape on the south western coast. Gauteng, which includes the cities of Pretoria, Johannesburg, Germiston and Vereeniging, welcomed 46 percent of U.S. visitors compared with the 44 percent who traveled to the Western Cape. That being said, V&A Waterfront, Cape Point, Cape Town City Centre, Camps Bay and Table Mountain—all in the Western Cape—continue to be top five destinations for U.S. tourists.  

In June, South Africa lifted all remaining COVID-19 travel restrictions. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated foreign travelers can now enter the country without needing to provide negative COVID-19 tests. The country also dropped mask mandates and border checks.   

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