Marthinus van Schalkwyk. Photo: Matthew Jordaan.

Johannesburg - South Africa received its highest number of international arrivals to date last year bringing it closer to its 10 million mark, Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said on Tuesday.

“South Africa's tourism sector continued to show positive growth in 2013, reaching a record high of 9.6 million international tourist arrivals,” he said in a statement.

“Following excellent growth in 2012, when tourist arrivals to South Africa grew by 10.2 percent... we are pleased to report that tourist arrival numbers to South Africa grew by a further 4.7 percent in 2013.”

According to the latest stats from Statistics South Africa (StatsSA), Van Schalkwyk said in a statement that there were 14,860,216 foreign arrivals in 2013.

There were 428,596 more tourists in 2013 than in 2012.

He said South Africa's international tourist arrivals rate grew at an annual average growth rate of 7.4 percent between 2011 and 2013, which was above the global average of 4.5 percent during the same period.

Arrivals from Europe increased by seven percent in 2013.

“We are pleased to report ongoing good growth from the majority of our European markets, with double-digit growth in 2013 for three of our largest markets in the region.”

Germany had increased by 14.2 percent, France by 10.3 percent and Italy by 10.6 percent, Van Schalkwyk said.

The United States experienced a 6.7 percent growth.

“The US market remains a major focus of our global marketing efforts and we are heartened by the continued good growth we have seen out of this market in recent years,” he said.

Tourists from Asia and Central & South America grew by 9.2 percent and eight percent respectively, with China and Brazil being the biggest markets.

Australasia tourist arrivals grew by four percent.

Africa, the country's largest source of tourism arrivals grew by almost 4 percent.

Van Schalkwyk said air travel was becoming more accessible for Africa's growing middle class.

He said this was reflected in the growing number of African air arrivals to South Africa which grew by 12 percent.

Nigeria was the largest African air market for South Africa. - Sapa