South Africa is a sought-after tourism destination as more than 10 million foreign travellers can attest to in 2017 alone.
With a number of challenges – crime levels make travellers think twice about their safety, a responsible tourism issue as one of its most popular cities faces severe water restrictions and of course the issue of restrictive visa access to mention a few – yet tourism still remains integral to South Africa's plans to grow responsibly, inclusively and sustainably.
UPDATE: SA plans to ease visa admin for holders of valid US, UK or Canadian visas
And South Africa’s Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom, back in the pound seat after a precarious year of political wrangling is under no illusion of the task at hand as inbound growth from Key Source Markets such as China are on the decline.
Talking to Traveller24 following his budget speech to Parliament on Wednesday, 17 May, he says he is aware of the group effort required across SA’s various departments and value chain to further establish one of the fastest growing industries worldwide.
Tourism has been identified as one of the three priority sectors, with a target of doubling its contribution to the SA economy.
“In South Africa, tourism has outpaced other sectors, contributing about 9% to our Gross Domestic Product. With 1.6 million people employed across the value chain, tourism stands out as a beacon of hope for the millions of people who are without jobs and incomes,” says Hanekom.
So with a revised National Tourism Sector Strategy approved by Cabinet in 2017 and a budget of some R2.2bn Hanekom says the department’s work is anchored on service excellence, memorable experiences, marketing SA effectively, ease of access as well as transforming the industry.
- Making it easier for tourists to visit
As the Department of Home Affairs launches its plan to implement an eVisa system, the Department of Tourism is working with them to look at easing the visa admin required to visit SA.
UPDATE: Home Affairs launches new automated biometric ID system
Because while certain markets have grown, other key markets have declined. In 2017, after the decision that visas would no longer be required for Russian tourists, Russian visitors increased by 52%. In sharp contrast to this, after we imposed a visa requirement on New Zealand, the numbers dropped by 24%.
"Visitors from North America grew by over 7 % last year. Germany went up by 12% and France by 27%. Brazil grew by no less than 75%!
WATCH: Hanekom: Tourism vulnerable to real SA challenges
"Disturbingly though, India, which is one of our top 10 source markets, hardly grew at all, and China declined by 17%. If we are serious about doubling our numbers, we will have to find ways to make it easier for travellers to visit our country, acknowledging the contribution direct air links play.
"Restoration of a direct flight from Mumbai to South Africa would assist enormously in the Indian market,” says Hanekom."
UPDATE: 40m+ passengers in 2017 and counting, as SA's airports push on with new routes
- Transforming the tourism sector
Transformation remains top of mind for the department, as applications are underway for the Tourism Transformation Fund of R120m announced in 2017.
“The Tourism B-BBEE Charter Council’s report on the state of transformation indicates that less than 45% of enterprises in the accommodation, hospitality and travel sub-sectors have achieved the 30% target on ownership.”
The department will be working together with National Empowerment Fund (NEF) to introduce a Tourism Transformation Fund - with applications now open until 31 August.
"This fund will help black investors and communities to invest capital in tourism projects, giving rise to a new generation of youth, women and black-owned tourism enterprises."
Hanekom highlighted that together with the NEF, the initiative has been refined to identify viable projects that can be turned into successful business plans.
Seen as an immediate opportunity to develop tourism entrepreneurs, Hanekom remains positive that as an equity-share initiative managed through the NEF, the expertise to hopeful applicants would not singularly related to finance in order to get the viable tourism initiatives off the ground.
He confirmed the department would be doing a full briefing on the fund in the coming weeks, confirming that funding for successful applications would be capped at R5m.
- Reflecting on growth of 2017 and the way forward
Hanekom states destination South Africa is the "sum of many different products and the department's approach continues to acknowledges this – especially when you consider the wants and needs of the domestic traveller to those of the international tourist.
He says its destination development budget is largely focused on rural tourist enterprises as well as Marine and Coastal tourism - with the Wild Coast expected to be significantly developed.
The good advancement on the development and investment strategy for the department is that various stakeholders have been identified and key projects have been thoroughly assessed from a due-diligence and viability level, which Hanekom says allows the department to approach international investors armed with a top-tier list of investment-ready projects across South Africa that can then be taken forward.
"Investments worth R71 billion were made in tourism developments last year, accounting for over 8% of total investment in South Africa.
The Department has established a dedicated unit to promote and actively seek investment. We are assisting developers to package their projects, and linking proposed developments with investors. Investment in tourism is expected to reach a staggering R112 billion by 2028"
Key sites mentioned by Hanekom included in 2017:
- New Shangoni access Gate at Kruger National Park
“In Limpopo, the Department of Tourism is collaborating with the Department of Environmental Affairs to build a new access gate into the Kruger National Park at Shangoni.
“High game fences separate people living in impoverished rural villages from one of the world’s most admired wildlife attractions. When the gate is completed, it will offer opportunities for crafters to produce and sell their work, and for others to offer accommodation and authentic cultural experiences.
TRAVEL PLANNING: SANParks launches new Kruger pilgrimage: Follow in the footsteps of giants
- Free-state community development
“At the community-owned Metsi Matsho Lodge in the Free State, small businesses from the local community were contracted to build accommodation and a conference centre. All profits from the operation will be used for community development.
TRAVEL PLANNING: Jozi breaks: A Free State road trip
- Shot left to the upgraded Sisulu National Botanical Gardens
“At the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens in Gauteng, we partnered with the South African National Biodiversity Institute to upgrade the facilities to a standard befitting the stature of this great leader, Tata Walter Sisulu. I strongly recommend that you take a sho't left next time you’re in Gauteng and visit this beautiful botanical garden.
READ MORE: Discover SA's 10 Botanical Gardens
- Garden Route's Goukamma to be updated
“This year the Department will upgrade the Goukamma Nature Reserve, an ecotourism destination in the heart of the Garden Route, providing work opportunities for unemployed youth and women from neighbouring communities.
READ MORE: 3 CapeNature reserves given eco thumbs up from Australia
- Midmar Dam and Giant's Castle accessibility upgrade
Honourable members, Tourism is for all, including people with disabilities. The Department has partnered with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to upgrade facilities at Midmar Dam and Giant's Castle which includes creating a mountain bike trail and installing universal access facilities at the Main Cave Museum, with its well-preserved San Rock Art.
READ MORE: Wild Drakensberg: Giant's Castle
- Themed picnic sites at Maropeng
The themed picnic sites that we developed at Maropeng in the Cradle of Humankind have become a big hit with day visitors to this iconic World Heritage Site.
TRAVEL PLANNING: Maropeng Visitors guide: 6 Ideas to make the most of the Cradle of Humankind