Tourism can be a catalyst for change
September is a month for South Africans to celebrate our country's rich heritage; its distinct people and unique landscapes. From its diverse natural beauty, world-class facilities and good weather to its friendly people and its moving history, South Africa offers tourists a whole number of reasons to visit and many are coming. In the past year alone, South Africa recorded a 13 per cent growth in international tourist arrivals, statistics released in February show.
The country is still one of the world's most popular destinations and, as seen in the April report, continues to top the rankings of the World Economic Forum Travel's global travel and tourism competitiveness index. In addition, the International Congress and Convention Association ranks South Africa as the top business events destination in Africa and the Middle East, according to a report released in May.
There can be no doubt that tourism is an essential part of our economy: the sector contributes about nine per cent of the country's gross domestic product and accounts for about 700 000 direct jobs.The number rises to 1.5 million if those indirectly employed by the sector are included.
There is, however, much room to grow these numbers, as South Africa at present can lay claim to only about a two per cent of the world market share in foreign visits.
Strengthening the tourism sector
With this in mind, the draft National Tourism Sector Strategy, released by the Department of Tourism earlier this year, aims to increase the number of direct jobs to one million, and total jobs to 2.26 million, by 2026.The strategy envisages that South Africa will be a top 20 tourist destination by 2020.
The draft strategy, an update of the initial strategy released in 2011, hinges on five strategic pillars: effective marketing; facilitating ease of access; visitor experience; destination management practices; and broad-based benefits which will strengthen the realisation of an inclusive and quality tourism sector.
The strategy singles out a number of recent trends, including the consistent and increasing growth globally in international tourist numbers. In 2015 international travel topped the 1.2 billion mark, with travellers from emerging markets such as China fuelling much of this growth.There has also been an increase in the number of older tourists and those under the age of 35 travelling.
But it's not only more international travellers that will help grow our tourism sector. South Africans themselves can play a vital role by being tourists in their own country.
Exploring the country domestically
In her budget vote in May,Tourism Minister Tokozile Xasa pointed out that her department intends to attract five million additional tourists to South Africa within the next five years one million of these domestic travellers.And there's no shortage of exquisite places to visit.
In July UNESCO proclaimed the ‡Khomani Cultural Landscape in the Northern Cape as the country's ninth World Heritage Site. It is here that some of the country's oldest ancestors – the ‡Khomani and related San people – lived some 150 000 years ago.This breath-taking region, within the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, is well worth a visit.
Travel has the potential to bring about change; to increase mutual understanding and tolerance for other cultures and foster social cohesion. While bringing us closer together tourism can also help us reflect what a beautiful country we live in, all while helping our tourism sector grow.
Phumla Williams GCIS Acting Director-General.