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Tourist numbers are soaring

 Tourism Minister Marthinus van SchalkwykInternational tourist arrivals in South Africa have grown by more than 300% since 1994, an achievement that Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk says citizens have to celebrate and cherish.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of Tourism Indaba 2014 at the Durban International Convention Centre on Saturday, 10 May, Van Schalkwyk said that as South Africa celebrated 20 years of democracy, the tourism industry in the country had grown by leaps and bounds, with nearly 15-million international arrivals in the country in 2013, 9.6 million of whom were tourists.

"By now, every South African is aware that we are celebrating 20 years of democracy and freedom this year. Millions of South Africans are participating in one way or another to celebrate our achievements. From the side of the tourism industry, our message is a resounding one: what an exhilarating 20 years it has been!"

Van Schalkwyk said that 20 years ago, total international arrivals, including tourist arrivals, stood at a mere 3.6 million. "During our two decades of democracy, these arrivals have grown by more than 300% to reach nearly 15 million last year, 9.6 million of [whom] were tourist arrivals." A lot had happened in the country since 1994. New facilities had been built and new policies drafted to develop and grow the industry.

"Twenty years ago, we had no purpose-built international convention centre; no Moses Mabhida Stadium; no Freedom Park; no Tourism Business Council of South Africa, which gives a voice to the previously fragmented private sector; no National Tourism Sector Strategy, which unites [the] government and industry around common goals; no South African National Convention Bureau nor a Meetings Africa, which positions us as a premier convention and business tourism destination; no robust grading criteria that underwrite the quality of our offerings, of which the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa is today the custodian; no Lilizela Tourism Awards for excellence; and no facilitated skills development and training for thousands of young people to become chefs, sommeliers and tourism safety monitors, to name but a few."

National investment

The national government invested over R1.6-billion in tourism every year, compared to R81-million in 1994. Today's government saw the importance of the industry to the growth of the country; hence it had set up a fully-fledged Ministry and Department of Tourism that provided policy direction. In addition, the government had recognised tourism as one of six core economic drivers in its New Growth Path, the minister said.

"The tourism sector was also the first in the country to have its own Black Economic Empowerment Charter and Scorecard formally gazetted. And South Africa was one of the first countries to entrench the concept of responsible tourism in its policy framework."

As a destination, South Africa had evolved from offering exclusive safari holidays to the international travelling elite, to one of the most sought-after global destinations offering a diverse variety of unforgettable experiences, including leisure, business and events to domestic, regional and long-haul markets.

As a country emerging from an era of isolation, Van Schalkwyk said South Africa joined the United Nations World Tourism Organisation in 1994. "We played a catalytic role in establishing the T20 Ministers' platform for tourism leaders from the G20 countries in Sandton, Johannesburg in 2010. Since 2012, we have formally participated in the structures of the [Organisation for Economic Development's] Tourism Committee. And we are a key partner in the initiative to form a Chapter of Tourism Ministers in the African Union," he said, adding that South Africa could look back proudly, having hosted some of the world's biggest tourism mega-events, such as the FIFA World Cup in 2010.

World Cup

Years after hosting the World Cup, the tourism industry was still growing from strength to strength. Van Schalkwyk said the 9.6 million international tourist arrivals last year were the highest in the country's history. "According to the latest tourism satellite account data, in 2012, our sector directly accounted for R93-billion, or 3%, of [gross domestic product] – up from an estimated R9-billion, or 1.7%, of GDP in 1994. When we add domestic tourism expenditure to the mix, internal tourism expenditure amounted to R191-billion in 2012. And where direct jobs in our sector stood at an estimated 230 000, or 1.9%, of the total in 1994, tourism today accounts for over 610 000, or 4.6%, of direct employment in the country."

These achievements had translated into economic benefits for the tourism industry. Van Schalkwyk said the accommodation subsector, for example, continued to experience solid recovery, working back the oversupply of hotel rooms following the World Cup.

"Last year, Sun International reported a comparative increase of 11% in accommodation revenue over the 2012 financial year, on the back of much healthier occupancy, and achieved daily rates compared to previous years. Similarly, City Lodge last year reported an increase of 11% in revenue and 31% in headline earnings, while Tsogo Sun reported that their 'adjusted headline earnings per share increase[d] by a very pleasing 24%' on the back of, inter alia, a 10% increase in average room rates." There had been notable foreign investment in the industry as well, said the minister. Marriott International recently acquired the 116 hotels in the Protea portfolio. "This R2-billion foreign investment in over 10 000 rooms spread across 79 hotels in South Africa and 37 elsewhere on our continent represents a massive vote of confidence in what we have all achieved together in the tourism sector."

Challenges remain

Despite these achievements, many challenges remained, especially regarding transformation and accelerated job creation. "And as we meet here as Africans, we recognise that we have to resolve outstanding challenges in travel facilitation. I am convinced that 20 years from now, history books telling the story of tourism on our continent will describe how a modernised and truly pan-African Indaba [was] one of those pivots that helped us to take tourism to the next level on our continent. This year, we have 24 African countries exhibiting at Indaba."

Welcoming Tourism Indaba exhibitors and delegates, eThekwini Mayor James Nxumalo said the city would continue to host the event in coming years. It had successfully hosted the conference for the past 26 years. He noted that during these years, there had been additions to the portfolio of tourist attractions in eThekwini, including Moses Mabhida Stadium.

Exhibitors had also been supporting Tourism Indaba, with over 60% of current exhibitors having been involved with it for the past 10 years, said the chief executive of South African Tourism, Thulani Nzima.



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