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By Njabulo Dlamini - THE SWAZI OBSERVER-24-Sep-2009

INTERNATIONAL visitor arrivals into Swaziland have exceeded expectation, recording an impressive figure of over 733 600 in the first half of 2009.

This represents a growth of 9.1% in the seven months of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008. In total there were 733 674 visitor arrivals in the first half of the year as confirmed by Swaziland Tourism Authority (STA) Chief Executive Officer Eric Maseko.

“This major boost was influenced by the favourable performance demonstrated by Swaziland’s neighbouring markets South Africa and Mozambique, with the latter recording double digit growth of 23.0%. Other key performing markets in terms of growth during the period January – July, 2009 include Brazil (16.1%), Portugal 19.6%), Switzerland (14.9%) and Kenya (10.6%),” Maseko said.

He said as early as the first month of the year, international visitor arrivals recorded an impressive growth of 7.8% accounting for 109 646 arrivals in 2009 compared to the 101 749 arrivals recorded in 2008. “Although the growth trend fluctuated from month to month, subsequent months during the first seven months in 2009, save for March, maintained an increase in visitor arrivals compared to the same months in the previous year. February managed to register a mere 0.3% increase to record 84 212 international visitor arrivals as a result of the dramatic fall in European visitor arrivals.

“Key source markets such as France (-37.2%), Germany (-32.4%), Italy (-14.2%) and the Netherlands (-18.5%) recorded their worst performance yet during that month. March (the only month to register a decline) recorded a ‘drop’ of -9.9% in arrivals. “Analytically the “fall” in visitor numbers was actually not so as Easter holidays in 2009 were held in April while in the previous year they fell in March, thus making March 2009 and March 2008 non-comparable.”

Similarly, April 2009 recorded a deceptive 30.1% increase compared to April 2008 as a result of the shift in Easter holiday dates. The following three months continued to maintain the increase in visitor arrivals. He said on the overall, the tourism sector’s performance in terms of visitor volumes has ‘defied the dampening mood displayed by global economies to reflect its resilience’.

“We have known for certain that people will continue to travel, but they will travel differently from the way they did during times of economic buoyancy. As such a shift in travel choices has been noted as short-haul travellers have significantly increased with neighbouring consumers opting for Swaziland, amongst other countries, as a closer to home holiday destinations. “Although 2008 was clearly a year of concern for the tourism sector in Swaziland, the performance in 2009 seems to be defying odds”.

However, the outlook for the second half of 2009, Maseko noted, will be naturally cautious as nieghbouring South Africa’s economy has began demonstrating signs of stress as a result of the recession.

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