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Jewels of the south: the top 5 small towns attracting local travellers

Limpopo South Africa
Image: Hoberman CollectionUIG via Getty Images

Due to temporary restrictions on international travel, data has revealed that searches for domestic travel are up by 22%.

According to the Global flight search and travel deals website, Cheapfights, the jump shows a promising future for domestic tourism. 

Of the increased interest in local travel, general manager of KAYAK EMEA (which manages Cheapflights), Laure Bornet, said: “We are delighted to see the interest in local travel among South Africans. South Africa has a lot to offer in terms of destinations with attractive nature and landmarks. Moreover, our data show that prices for domestic flights this year are down by almost one-fourth when compared to pre-covid times of 2019. Now is the perfect time for exploring closer to home,” Bornet said.

From coastal weekends in the Cape to bushveld escapes in the Lowveld, locals are spoiled for choice with holiday spots.  

Among the flight searches done since the start of lockdown, these are the top ten cities in the country South Africans are interested in going to:

  1. Cape Town, Western Cape 
  2. Johannesburg, Gauteng
  3. Durban, KwaZulu-Natal 
  4. Gqeberha, Eastern Cape 
  5. George, Western Cape 
  6. East London, Eastern Cape 
  7. Bloemfontein, Free State 
  8. Nelspruit, Mpumalanga 
  9. Kimberley, Northern Cape 
  10. Mthatha, Eastern Cape 

“It is also noted that many people flock to Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban not only for leisure, but for business as well,” Bornet remarks. “What is quite interesting to note is the presence on the list of smaller towns like Nelspruit and Kimberely, which are in some of the less-travelled regions of the country.” 

She also added that small local towns were attracting significant interest.

These are the top five cities that had the highest rank jump from 2019 to 2021:

  1. Hoedspruit, Limpopo - climbed 70 spots from 118 in 2019 to 48 in  2021 
  2. Upington, Northern Cape - up 49 spots from 94 in 2019 to 45 in 2021 
  3. Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal - climbed 46 spots from 95 in 2019 to 49 in 2021 
  4. Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal - up 47 spots from 97 in 2019 to 50 in 2021 
  5. Margate, KwaZulu-Natal - jumped 45 spots from 77 in 2019 to 32 in 2021 

Bornet explains the above shows a clear increase in searches to KwaZulu-Natal towns, which could largely be attributed to people now feeling safer to visit their families after interprovincial borders opened up again.

“Small towns like Hoedspruit are not travelled to very often unless of course, it’s to visit the Kruger National Park - this may be the answer for the notable rise in South Africans wanting to fly there. With international travel still not open, a trip to the Lowveld for a safari is a great way to take a break with your significant other or loved ones,” Bornet shares.  

The travel expert also added that people have been noticed to want shorter breaks. 

“This may be attributed to being focused on work, or being budget-conscious, but many South Africans are searching for domestic holidays with an average span of four days.

“People have been tightening their purse strings since the onset of the pandemic, but are still interested in entertainment and taking some time away. This is compared to last year this time when people were searching for visits to the same cities for an average of five days,” she says.  

Bornet concluded that these trends show that, although travel, in general, is not yet where it was before, there is still great interest in exploring whenever and wherever we can. “The great interest in travelling locally shows hope for the domestic travel and tourism industry.”