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Tourism a driver of economic growth

South Africa has immense potential to use travel and tourism as drivers of economic growth, job creation and to promote social development, says the Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.

The Minister said this as the country celebrates Tourism Month, which is marked annually in September.

She was recently appointed as the Minister of Tourism by President Cyril Ramaphosa when he announced his cabinet for the sixth administration.

The Department of Tourism has a mandate to promote the practice of responsible tourism for the benefit of the country and for the enjoyment of all its residents and foreign visitors.

It also has the responsibility to provide for the effective domestic and international marketing of South Africa as a tourist destination. The department promotes quality tourism products and services, tourism growth and the development of the tourism sector, and enhances cooperation and coordination between all spheres of government in developing and managing tourism.

This Tourism Month, Minister Kubayi-Ngubane encouraged South Africans to explore the country’s natural beauty and work as a collective to maintain the status of South Africa as a destination of choice for rest and recreation.

“South Africa has multiple heritage sites including World Heritage Sites, such as Mapungubwe, Cradle of Humankind and Robben Island, among others. These sites tell a story of the origins of humanity and that of humanity’s struggle against oppression.

“International and domestic tourists travel to these heritage sites to rediscover that they are human beings and that the struggle for freedom in any part of the world is their struggle as well,” the Minister noted.

She said it is appropriate to link tourism to heritage given that September is also celebrated as Heritage Month in South Africa.

Tourism vital for economic growth

Minister Kubayi-Ngubane said tourism remains a key driver of South Africa’s national economy and contributes to job creation.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), in 2018 the tourism sector in South Africa directly accounted for about 2.8 percent of real gross domestic product (GDP), which amounts to R139 billion, and this is projected to grow to R145.3 billion for 2019.

The indirect contribution of the tourism sector to the country’s GDP in 2018 stood at 8.2 percent, which captures the strong economic links to the demand and supply side that the sector has with other sectors of the South African economy.

In addition, the tourism sector’s direct employment accounted for 4.2 percent of total employment in the South African economy in 2018 and this is projected to increase to 709 000 jobs in 2019. Its indirect contribution to total employment stood at 9.2 percent for 2018.

“Our department has the National Tourism Sector Strategy (NTSS) which is a blueprint for the tourism sector to increase growth targets contained in the country’s New Growth Path framework. Through the NTSS, the tourism sector is committed to creating a total of 225 000 jobs by the year 2020,” the Minister explained.

Local and township tourism

According to Minister Kubayi-Ngubane, South Africans are showing enthusiasm for travelling.

She said there was exceptional growth on the domestic tourism front from January to April this year when compared to the same period last year. In effect, domestic holiday trips rose by almost 60 percent.

The Minister said township tourism is becoming increasingly popular as visitors to the country look for a more authentic experience, away from game reserves, Table Mountain, and the usual breath-taking scenery.

“This is why the department has a sustainable township upliftment initiative which aims to grow tourism within townships. It aims to show some of our country’s hidden gems that are often located in our townships,” she added.

“Ahead of the budget vote this year, I visited some establishments in Soweto, including Kwa Lichaba and Ikhaya Le Langa in Langa Township in Cape Town, which serves as an intermediary for 40 emerging local entrepreneurs, including homestays; tour guides; and creative, visual and performance artists.”

She said Ikhaya Le Langa is one of the establishments that create opportunities for the locals, thereby sustainably revamping the province’s oldest township, and boosting tourism.

Attracting more international tourists

When it comes to attracting more international tourists, the Minister said an opportunity exists to increase South Africa’s market penetration in large outbound tourist markets. Special attention will be paid to attracting visitors from China, Nigeria and India.

“There are great prospects for growing the number of international tourists through those markets,” she said, adding that President Cyril Ramaphosa wants to see international arrivals doubled to 21 million by 2030.

To achieve this target, the Minister said the department needs to work towards ensuring that the growth rate of international arrivals increases to over four percent in the short term and consistently grows by over six percent until 2030.

“We are encouraged by the increase in international arrivals over the past two decades and believe our share of the global 1.4 billion international tourist arrivals in 2018 leaves room for significant international market growth.

“We will leverage on the fact that South Africa is home to some of the most sought-after tourist experiences, and our natural beauty, combined with cultural and historic landmarks, provide an all-encompassing experience for visitors,” she added.

Furthermore, the Minister said work is underway to position South Africa as a China- and India-friendly tourism destination through relevant content-reviewed platforms and a comprehensive China and India readiness programme, developed in close partnership with the private sector.

“We plan to use technological platforms such as WeChat and Alipay, for ease of access to the Chinese market,” she said.

The Minister also said establishing an air transport link between South Africa and India will receive attention. “We will be engaging with various airlines to explore this possibility,” she said.

Minister Kubayi-Ngubane said Europe and America remain important markets for the South African tourism sector and believes the new visa regime will encourage more visitors to the country.

Minister of Home Affairs Dr Aaron Motsoaledi announced in his budget speech that visa-free status will be given to an additional seven countries – Qatar, United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Ghana and Sao Tome.

“We are doing our very best to ensure that we remove all obstacles for tourists to enjoy their journey to South Africa,” Minister Kubayi-Ngubane said.

“In this regard, we believe that the recent announcement of visa waivers for more countries will lead to a spike in international arrivals in South Africa. The country’s new e-visa system, expected to launch within this financial year, is another plus for us,” she added.

Priorities for the next five years

At the top of her priorities for the next five years are plans to intensify South Africa’s market activities internationally to increase the number of international arrivals.

She also wants to intensify domestic tourism programmes to get more South Africans to travel within their country.

“Transformation in the sector remains a big challenge and it is an area that will continue to receive our attention. Transformation programmes will focus on five priority areas, namely ownership, management control, skills development, enterprise and supplier development, as well as socio-economic development.”

The Minister said the department will also scale up the implementation of its flagship Women in Tourism Programme which supports the development and empowerment of women in the tourism sector.

“It is our belief that transformation efforts must be deliberate and they should be consciously driven,” said the Minister.

She said the department will continue to collaborate with the Tourism Business Council of South Africa and other stakeholders to deliver on the 21 million target.

The Minister said the department intends to work much closer with the private sector to make South Africa an attractive destination.

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