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A swing and a miss for retired cricketer: South Africa’s tourism industry employs 740,000 people – not 7.5 million

This article is more than 3 years old

  • Expressing frustration at job losses under South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdown, retired cricketer Pietersen said 7.5 million people were employed in the country’s tourism industry.

  • Statistics South Africa’s most recent tourism jobs figures are for 2018, when 739,657 were directly employed in the sector.

  • The extent of recent job losses in tourism should be revealed in the next few months when the Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey releases a second round of results.

South Africa’s tourism industry has taken a knock during the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown. As in many countries, border closures and a ban on leisure travel are likely to have caused large revenue and job losses.  

Conservationist and retired English cricketer Kevin Pietersen, who was born in South Africa, has expressed frustration with lockdown restrictions. In July, he implored president Cyril Ramaphosa to do something. 

“You should be sorting this!!!!!!” he tweeted to his 3.7 million followers. The tourism industry, he said, employs “MILLIONS of YOUR people!!!!!! 7.5M people!!!!” 

Some Twitter users were quick to question the high figure.  

“7.5 million?! That’s about 50% of all employment,” Vimal Ranchhod, chief research officer in the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit at the University of Cape Town, responded. 

South Africa is a top tourist destination, attracting millions of visitors each year. But does the industry employ as many as 7.5 million people? We took a closer look at the stats. 

Tourism directly employed 740,000 people in 2018

Africa Checked emailed Pietersen asking for the source of his claim, but he is yet to respond. (Note: We will update this report when he does.)  

The latest statistics on employment come from the quarterly labour force survey, released in June 2020.  It shows that 16.4 million people in South Africa had jobs during the first quarter of the year. But statistics on tourism sector employment are not included in the survey. 

Instead, they can be found in Statistics South Africa’s economic analyses of the Tourism Satellite Account (TSA). 

The TSA is a statistical tool adopted by the United Nations to measure goods and services associated with tourism according to international standards, Riaan Grobler, application of national accounts manager at Stats SA, told Africa Check. 

South Africa’s latest report, published in November 2019, provides final employment figures for 2016 and provisional figures for 2017 and 2018. It shows that in 2018 the tourism sector directly employed 739,657 people in various tourism industries

These jobs made up 4.5% of total employment in South Africa. 

The road passenger transport industry is the biggest employer, with 30% (222,666) of all tourism jobs. It includes car rental, bus and taxi services. 

The total number of people directly employed in the tourism industry has risen by 58,000 since 2017. In 2016, the total was 705,871

Impact on tourism sector not yet known

According to Stats SA, the tourism industry has remained resilient despite “tough economic conditions”. But how has the country’s lockdown affected tourism jobs? 

The National Income Dynamics Study is a national multi-year survey designed to track poverty, household dynamics, livelihood and other social factors in South Africa.

It recently conducted a Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey. This nationally representative panel survey of 7,000 South Africans will be conducted every month. It aims to provide data on income, welfare and employment. 

The survey’s first wave of data shows that about 3 million people lost their jobs from February to April 2020. But the first survey didn’t ask people what industry they were in. 

“We can’t disaggregate [that] just yet,” the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit’s Ranchhod told Africa Check. 

The second wave will include questions on the industry, but it will be a few months before that data is released.

As for the claim that the tourism industry employs 7.5 million people, it “just can’t be correct”, Ranchhod said. 

Conclusion: Tourism in South Africa directly employed about 740,000 people in 2018.  

Retired cricketer Kevin Pietersen recently claimed that 7.5 million people were employed in South Africa’s tourism industry.

Tourism directly employed 739,657 people in 2018, according to Stats SA’s latest data.  We rate the claim as incorrect. 

The effect the nationwide lockdown is having on tourism jobs is not yet known. It may become clearer in the coming months, an expert told Africa Check. 

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