Cape Town - South Africa's mining industry employs thousands of people, but the booming tourism sector creates more jobs, Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said on Tuesday.
He told the Parliamentary Tourism Summit in Cape Town that tourism's direct contribution to gross domestic product had increased to R84 billion in 2011.
“Mining is a key industry, creating jobs for thousands and thousands of people. Tourism is creating more jobs than the mining industry; it's important we understand that.”
It was also larger than many other important economic sectors, including the automotive manufacturing industry.
“Direct employment in the tourism sector, as a percentage of overall employment in the country, is around 4.5 percent.”
Van Schalkwyk said it was easy to overlook the fact that tourism was also a major earner of foreign currency - non-resident visitors brought in the equivalent of R71.7bn in 2011.
Despite a tough international trading environment and intense competition, there were enormous opportunities for South African tourism to grow even bigger.
“If you look at the new exploding market in the East, that's still under-served. We all know that over the next few years, Chinese airlines are going to grow exponentially - they're buying planes by the hundreds.”
The opportunity in this was that there was no so-called south-south air corridor.
“There is no south-south corridor. Because people have to leave China and fly to Europe, or to the Middle East... if they want to come down into Africa, or (go) to South America.
“We need a south-south corridor. And in my view this is the big challenge for us - to make sure we establish ourselves as the hub for that south-south corridor.”
Van Schalkwyk warned that if South Africa did not do this, “another African country is going to”.
Earlier, he said China had become South Africa's fourth-biggest overseas tourism market, up from eighth place two years ago.
On the rapid growth of the tourism industry, Van Schalkwyk said in 1994 the country received just over 3.4 million international arrivals.
“(Last year), we witnessed just over 13m international arrivals, of which some 9.2m were international tourists.
“(In that year), our overall year-on-year international tourist arrivals growth was 10.2 percent.”
The scale of this performance could be appreciated when compared with the average global industry growth of four percent for that period - as reported by the UN's World Tourism Organisation.
Van Schalkwyk said the sector was set for further “exponential” growth.
“We just looked at the (latest) quarterly figures... and it's good news for us.”
Arrivals from European markets were all up, including the UK, up three percent, as well as the US, which was up six percent.
But the big growth was coming from the East.
“China is up 37.4 percent; India, 22 percent.”
There was also good news from the African markets, with Nigeria up 22 percent and Ghana 46 percent.
“The first quarter is good news... and we look forward to another good year.”
Van Schalkwyk said that at any given time, three quarters of all those on holiday in the country were South African.
Domestic tourism was a key component of future planning.
“Domestic tourists contributed R101bn to our economy in 2011,” he said.
The two-day summit is being hosted by Parliament's tourism portfolio committee. It ends on Wednesday.
Among the major topics under scrutiny are airlift strategies, growing domestic tourism, and transformation in the sector. - Sapa