'VISIT YOUR COUNTRY': Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom speaks during the official launch of Tourism Month (September) in the Free State. Picture: Paballo Thekiso

Johannesburg - It saddens Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom immensely that more South Africans cannot afford to travel and see their own country.

“Why shouldn’t someone who was born in this country not be able to see Robben Island?” the minister asked at the official launch of Tourism Month, which will focus on opening up travel to a broader range of people.

“No South African should say they never had the opportunity to see our wonderful museums or experience our fine theatres.”

People’s economic levels are a major barrier to making tourism more accessible, he said, commending SA Tourism’s new #TourismForAll campaign, which is aimed at growing domestic travel.

“The challenge is to make travel more affordable.”

However, he categorically ruled out any form of government subsidy to enable lower- income earners to travel more.

“We simply cannot do that. It would require a huge budget. Rather than using subsidies, we should be looking more to co-operation with the owners of those key tourist sites and urge them to look at affordability.”

One of those areas was in municipal and local government where authorities often “have responsibility for some fantastic assets”, in the form of camping and caravanning properties or resorts.

Hanekom acknowledged, however, that many of these assets, which could be used to ignite more local tourism, had been badly neglected.

“We have to all sit down and discuss how we rehabilitate and improve these places, because they can be drivers of economic growth through tourism.”

The minister said he would also like to see more partnerships between the government and private sector when it came to improving the country’s tourism offering.

The government would be involved in the form of support, such as marketing, through SA Tourism, rather than commit taxpayers’ money to joint tourism ventures.

Tourism Month in September coincides with Heritage Day and, said Hanekom, it was the perfect opportunity for all South Africans “to get out there and see out rich historical and cultural sights.”

“People talk about the history and culture in Europe, but we have our own vibrant history to see and to talk about.”

SA Tourism’s #TourismForAll campaign is aimed at encouraging locals to travel and will be focusing on the Free State as one of the less-visited provinces.

Free State Tourism MEC Sam Mashinini said the province was often overlooked by South African tourists, “perhaps because we are not that well known.”

The province was more than just “the platteland and mealies”, he added.

“We connect with six of the nine provinces on our border and we offer a whole range of tourist attractions, from adventure sports, to wildlife to beautiful scenery and the rich history of the Basotho nation, as well as that of colonial times and the Boer War.”

The Star