Let's become tourists in our land

Everyone loves a holiday, whether it is a visit to the family back home, camping in a national park, or relaxing at an upmarket hotel. When on holiday we want to escape to a place where the people are welcoming, the food is delicious and we feel at home.   

As we rejuvenate on a beach or at the pool behind the scenes, numerous people are working tirelessly to ensure our carefree stay. They include booking agents, drivers, hospitality staff, tour guides, rest stop workers and game rangers.   

In 2011 the tourism sector directly employed approximately 598 432 people. In that year alone about 31 000 direct jobs were created through this sector.

Tourism remains one of South Africa’s biggest success stories since 1994. President Jacob Zuma reflected on the remarkable growth of the industry at the release of the last year’s tourism statistics: “In 1993, South Africa received a mere 3,4 million foreign visitors. By 2012, the figure had grown by 300 per cent to 13,5 million visitors, of which 9,2 million were tourists.”

Most other popular tourist destinations experienced a dip following the economic crisis, but South African tourism continued to see increased tourist arrivals. Last year international tourist arrivals in South Africa grew by 10,2 per cent year-on-year to almost 9,2 million, which was far more than double the global average of around 4 per cent.

Europe remains our most important source of overseas arrivals. In 2011 this market grew by 9,5 per cent to 1,4 million European tourists visiting South Africa.

However, a few years back we decided to increase our marketing efforts in emerging markets, because by 2015 these countries are expected to account for 40 per cent of all global departures.

This approach proved to be correct. Since 2009, arrivals from China have more than tripled with this country becoming South Africa’s fourth biggest overseas tourism market. India is now our eighth largest tourist source market and had a growth of 18,2 per cent between 2011 and last year.

Over the same period Brazil showed an impressive growth rate of 44, 7 per cent and for the first time became one of South Africa's top ten overseas markets. Last year arrivals figures from the African region also show a growth of 8,5 per cent compared to 2011.

President Zuma believes that we had accomplished our tourism success, because of South Africa’s “systematic investment in policy and strategy development as well as effective implementation”.

Our tourism approach has been steered by the National Tourism Sector Strategy (NTSS) which had been developed in partnership with all spheres of government, the private sector and other role players.  

This strategy targets 15 million arrivals by 2020 which would then make South Africa one of the top 20 most popular tourist countries. If we achieve this goal, the tourism industry would create an additional 225 000 direct and 400 000 indirect jobs.

However, domestic tourism remains the backbone of our tourism industry. The NTSS has set a target of 18 million domestic tourists undertaking 54 million domestic trips by 2020.  The Domestic Tourism Growth Strategy was launched in May last year to guide Government and the tourism industry on how to reach NTSS targets. It not only aims to encourage South Africans to travel within the country, but aspires to nurse a travelling culture among citizens.

Highlighting the value of domestic tourism, Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk stated: “Domestic tourism is important not only to stimulate leisure travel at home, but also to attract more foreign tourist arrivals to our country. When we have a nation of enthusiastic and passionate domestic leisure tourists, we gain a priceless bank of recommendations and ambassadors with which to attract more foreign tourists to South Africa.”

Additionally, we have been targeting business tourism. By February 2013 South Africa already secured 87 association meetings for 2013 to 2017, which will contribute more than R2,6 billion to the economy. This year, the 38 secured association meetings will bring more than 57 000 delegates to South Africa, who will inject R680 million into our economy.

South African Tourism CEO Thulani Nzima sees the potential for massive growth in this sector. “It’s our collective ambition to grow business event arrivals to South Africa by 50 per cent in the next five years. This will mean an additional US$344 million (R3 billion) for the South African economy and an additional 31 000 jobs,” he said.

One of the most important platforms to market South Africa as a destination remains the annual Tourism Indaba in Durban. Taking place from 11 to 14 May 2013, this year’s Indaba will again promote products from across the country, but also include a Heritage and Culture Pavilion showcasing South Africa’s eight world heritage sites, culture, art, design and music.

To extend our marketing effort prior to Indaba, South African Tourism is currently taking a group of international travel bloggers on a media tour across the country. The bloggers are uploading pictures and travel stories on the Twitter hash tag #MeetSouthAfrica. This serves as a great opportunity for South Africans to join the campaign by listing their favourite South African attractions on the Twitter hash tag #MeetSouthAfrica.  

The Government will continue to invest in tourism and do all it can to make our country attractive to foreign visitors, but we need the help of all South Africans to grow this sector. Let’s become tourists in our own country; ensure that foreign tourists have a memorable visit; and work together to make South Africa one of the top 20 tourism countries in the world.  

Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)

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