A record number of tourists visited South Africa in 2007, but travellers spent less money as the global economic crunch squeezed their budgets.

Nearly 9.1 million tourists flocked here last year – 8,3 percent up from the in 2006, and higher than the average global increase of 6,6 percent.

The growth in tourist numbers edged South Africa up one notch to 28th in the international tourism destination rankings.

But tourists spent less, especially fellow Africans who travel here chiefly to shop but now rely on their own burgeoning retail sectors at home.

“There are numerous factors at work that impact our industry. Rising oil and food prices, inflation and rising interest rates erode levels of disposable income and force consumers to go back to the basics,” said Moeketsi Mosola, chief executive officer at SA Tourism.

“Where people can travel they spend less whilst travelling or opt to go on holiday for shorter lengths of time. People also choose to holiday closer to home, and to avoid the long-haul destinations.”

Revenue from foreign arrivals dropped by R6.5 billion, or 9,8 percent, to R60,5-billion, largely due to a decline in shopping by African land arrivals.

About R38,5-billion of the R6.5 billion was derived from African tourists, and the remainder from overseas visitors.

Expenditure on accommodation decreased by 8,3 percent as visitors opted for cheaper lodgings – such as B&Bs, self-catering accommodation and hostels.

South African Tourism expects the rise of retailers and wholesalers in neighbouring countries to further dampen spending patterns, and plans to launch a marketing drive to counter this trend.

“Based on our brand-tracking research, visitors to South Africa continue to show high levels of satisfaction,” Mosola said.

“This bodes well for the future growth of our industry and our status as Fifa 2010 World Cup hosts entrenches our status as a capable and accessible destination.”