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GOOD NEWS: Unlocking the Power of Tourism

Since the advent of democracy, the tourism sector has both benefited from and contributed to South Africa’s 33 quarters of uninterrupted economic expansion since September 1999 – the country’s longest economic upswing.

Opening this past year’s Business Tourism Conference, Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said “Our tourism industry, having overtaken gold as a source of foreign exchange, is one of the major contributors to this growth”.

In 1994, a year in which three million foreign tourists entered the country, the Economist Intelligence Unit estimated that tourism contributed little more than 2% to South Africa’s economy. Fast forward to 2007: more than 9 million tourists visited the country, and tourism contributed 8.3% to GDP.

SA Tourism CEO Moeketsi Mosola, attributes this phenomenal growth to “the combined and focused efforts of tourism marketing organisations, the increased awareness of our brand in our key markets and the high levels of satisfaction that travellers who have been to SA report back to their friends and family”.

Success in tourism has also propelled much needed growth in job creation and poverty alleviation. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the industry employed approximately 969 000 people in South Africa in 2007. This translates to 7.5% of total employment or 1 in every 13.4 jobs.

Speaking at the annual tourism conference in October last year Van Schalkwyk said: “Jobs and business opportunities created in tourism have special significance for economies such as ours. They help to spread opportunities beyond our major metropolitan areas to rural areas. For every 12 international tourists who visit our country, we create one job in our country”.

Finding our niche

The past 14 years have also allowed South Africa to grow into a recognised competitor in niche tourism markets. Ecotourism, for example, is an area in which South Africa is considered to be a strong performer. The country’s national as well as private game parks have been lauded for their attention to eco-friendly practices.

In 2003 government increased the country’s terrestrial protected areas from 5.4 % to 8%, and marine protected areas from 11% to 20%.

South Africa has also made great strides in developing Transfrontier Parks (TPs). Since 2000, four TPs have been formally established. These are the IAi- IAis/Richtersveld TP between Namibia and South Africa; the Kgalagadi TP between South Africa and Botswana; the Limpopo/Shashe Conservation Area between Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the Great Limpopo TP between Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Business tourism is big business

Business tourism is fast becoming a valuable sector of tourism in South Africa. Having received 470 000 of the international tourism arrivals in 2006, this sector now makes up 5% of the total market, contributing R2.4 billion to total foreign direct spend.

“This market is therefore crucial in addressing the more equitable spread of increased tourism spend… It also enhances economic development by showcasing investment opportunities to large numbers of delegates,” says Van Schalkwyk.

South Africa holds just over 1% of the global meetings market, said the minister, who added that 2010 will be the catalyst for further growth in this area.

Catalyst 2010

The 2010 World Cup to be hosted in South Africa is certain to boost tourism in all respects. At least 400 000 people will visit South Africa in the six weeks of the cup, and they are expected to spend about R15.6 billion.

An additional two million international tourists are expected between 2007 and 2015 as a result of increased exposure from being the Host Country for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

The 2010 World Cup, if managed correctly, will prove to be the force behind tourism’s next wave of success. The Cup will allow us an opportunity to shift perceptions of our country and continent, and will unleash the full potential of our tourism industry to create jobs and reduce poverty.

South Africa’s new gold

The Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, gave the industry a challenge in 2005 to grow the number of tourism arrivals to 10 million by 2010.  With over 9 million arrivals in 2007, the industry seems set not only to meet, but to exceed this target.

Tourism has become a leading driver of South Africa’s economy. While the country’s economy was historically based on gold, tourism is seen as the base of the economy of the future. – South Africa’s new gold!

Ian Macdonald BBus Sci, is the Online Editor at SA Good News.


  • SA Tourism increased in 2006 by 13.9% – three times the global average of 4.5%
  • Foreign arrivals contributed R222 billion to the economy between 2003 and 2006
  • Shamwari Game Reserve has been voted the world’s leading conservation and safari company, ten years in a row (1998 – 2007)
  • SA ranks second in the world for adventure travel (iExplore.com)
  • SA scenery voted best in the world by readers of Condè Nast Traveller (UK edition)
  • Singita Private Game Reserve was voted the second best hotel in the world in the 2007 World’s Best Awards
  • Cape Town voted 10th best holiday city in the world in the 2007 Travel + Leisure Magazine
  • Township tourism is booming – Soweto opened its first 4 star hotel in 2007
  • SA was voted the best and most interesting travel destination by wereldwijzer.nl, a popular Dutch online travel magazine
  • Cape Town has the 5th best blue sky in the world (UK National Physical Laboratory)