Cape Town - It was another perfect landing – Air China Flight 867 touched down smoothly at OR Tambo International Airport at 06:16 on September 1.
Arriving in South Africa from Beijing were hundreds of tourists. As the Boeing 777-300 taxied to its parking bay, hundreds of minibus taxis started their southbound trip on the N3 freeway, taking people who work in Gauteng home to Durban and other regions in our country for the month-end weekend.
Now, why should anyone in South Africa bother about these two rather ordinary, everyday occurrences: Chinese airline passengers arriving in our country by choice, and South Africans forced to endure a cramped taxi trip?
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After all, about 250 flights arrive and depart through OR Tambo every day. And the passengers on Flight 867 were from China – the world’s largest and most lucrative source of tourism. South Africa’s exchange rate makes it easy for foreigners to come and enjoy our attractions, but difficult for the South Africans travelling in the taxi to go abroad.
International visitors and taxi commuters are significant for the future of tourism and the national economy.
International and domestic tourists are the lifeblood of our industry. Last year, the value of our tourism market reached R102bn, an 11% increase compared with 2015.
We are poised to grow this further. SA Tourism’s 5-in-5 strategy aims to attract an additional 4 million international tourists and 1 million domestic tourists in the next five years.
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Every international tourist represents economic and social opportunities for all our people, not only for the more than 700 000 people directly employed in the tourism industry.
The money they spend and the experiences they have are important elements of tourism’s contribution to South Africa’s economic and social sustainability.
The taxi passengers are travelling home primarily to visit their friends and families, but there is great potential to bring them into the mainstream tourism economy. They must be made aware of local tourism attractions in their area, especially the special offers available during September, such as free entry for families at selected game parks.
A culture of travel
Tourism Month is a great opportunity to promote domestic tourism and create a culture of travel among South Africans. We want to spread awareness of the affordable, accessible and world-class attractions available at our own doorstep.
For tourism to be sustainable, it must make a low impact on the environment and on indigenous culture, and it must create jobs. We want tourists to enjoy meaningful experiences and become more aware of sustainable tourism practices.
Communities can say “we do tourism” by contributing to environmentally sustainable tourism, using recyclable products, promoting energy efficiency, supporting anti-poaching initiatives, and ensuring we have clean and safe neighbourhoods.
Communities can contribute to social sustainability by banding together in cooperatives to supply goods and services to tourists, and by providing the authentic cultural experiences many international tourists want.
We can accelerate radical economic transformation by bringing more people into the tourism mainstream in a meaningful and sustainable way.
Domestically, we can “do tourism” by joining together to encourage and facilitate domestic holiday trips, and by inspiring entrepreneurship in the sector.
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We can attend music and food festivals, learn more about our traditions and embrace our diversity. We can preserve and promote our cultures and enhance social cohesion by creating understanding among our people.
With Heritage Day and Tourism Day in the same month, we can embrace tourism as part of our heritage.
There is so much to see, and even more to do in Mpumalanga this month. There are many attractions in all of our provinces. We can develop and grow tourism further by involving everyone in this sector.
Partnerships and collaboration will always be at the heart of successful and sustainable tourism.
When we all work together to “do tourism”, we can maximise the benefits of every incoming flight of tourists. We can spread the benefits of tourism to the families of the passengers on every minibus taxi. Collectively, we must find ways to improve leisure travel opportunities for the less privileged in our society.
As we pursue radical economic transformation in tourism and all its related sectors, we can accelerate the fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment. We are guided by our vision for a better life for all South Africans.
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This fight will be won when future generations can participate meaningfully, as equals, in the country’s economy, and fulfil their dreams and aspirations.
We will have won when the daughter of the migrant worker in the taxi stops seeing aviation as a luxury only for the privileged, but as an accessible and affordable form of travel for herself and her family, so they can also board an airliner bound for China if they choose to.
Welcome to Tourism Month.
Let’s all “do tourism”, for the benefit of our country, our economy and our people.
Xasa is Minister of Tourism
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