File picture: GCINA NDWALANE/African News Agency (ANA)
DURBAN - The tourism gems in KwaZulu-Natal should see more traffic this year as relaxed visa requirements and increased air and land linkages boost incoming tourism, according to the Tourism Business Council of SA chief executive Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa.

“There are many hidden tourism gems in KZN and it is up to us and the relevant stakeholders to make sure that many more people enjoy what KZN has to offer. Tourism is one of the key growth sectors in the economy and although tourist arrivals grew by 1.8 percent last year, this is well short of what we want,” Tshivhengwa said.

Statistics SA said in February that overall tourism arrivals rose by 1.8 percent last year to 10 472 105, but this was well short of the 6 percent growth experienced by the global tourism industry, according to the UN World Tourism Organisation. 

The number of tourists from overseas fell by 1.5 percent to 2 672 146 as a stronger rand and restrictive visa requirements saw overseas tourists select countries that were cheaper and easier to get into. 

Turkey is far cheaper due to the drop in the value of the Turkish lira relative to European currencies. 
The data for this year has shown no sign of a reversal in the declining trend of overseas tourists as there was a 4.9 percent year-on-year (y/y) drop in February after a 3.2 percent y/y drop in January.

But the new Maputo-Katembe bridge makes it easier for Mozambican tourists to visit KZN and the province stands to gain from the direct flight three times a week between Durban and London introduced by British Airways in October.

King Shaka International Airport and KZN tour operators are enjoying more international traffic as shown by the y/y acceleration in international arrivals – up 11.8 percent in February and 15.2 percent in January, according to the Airports Company of SA data.
Statistics SA data underpinned this with data reflecting a 28 percent y/y rise in February in the number of foreign tourists entering South Africa via King Shaka with a 68 percent y/y increase in the number from the UK.

“Access to our markets is critical; so the continuing drive to increase airlift capacity, open new roads and speed up border controls is our priority. Brazil, for example, saw a surge in tourism after visa requirements were eased.”

Tourism makes up a tenth of gross domestic product and employs more than 1.5 million people.

In rand terms, tourism contributed more than R410 billion to the economy in 2017, but it’s believed this could increase substantially if obstacles to growth are removed.
This stance will resonate with operators at Africa’s Travel Indaba in Durban from May 2 to 4. Originally scheduled for a week later, the date was shifted because of the May 8 elections as the conference venue will be the Independent Electoral Commission's provincial hub. 

Being part of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and SA) grouping will enable South Africa to leverage its attractions, but greater airlift capacity will be required as there are no direct air links between Durban and any other BRICS member country.

The Maputo-Katembe bridge is part of the African Union objective of making travel across Africa easier, promoting tourism and commerce. Construction work began in 2014 and the bridge officially opened on November 10, 2018. It cuts travel time from the Kosi Bay border post to Maputo from six hours to 90 minutes.  

Much as the Midlands Meander promotes tourism for travellers between KZN and Gauteng, a KZN Northern Corridor would promote tourism among KZN, eSwatini and Mozambique as an increase in traffic would make it viable to build tourism infrastructure such as lodges, service stations and retail centres. 

“A strategy we are pursuing is to make sure provinces such as Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KZN are seen as year-round tourism venues as they do not have cold winters like the other provinces. That should combat some of the seasonality that takes place in tourism accommodation,” Tshivhengwa said.