. Cape Town. Tourist and holiday makers making use of the Cable Car to go to the top of Table Mountain, one of the newly voted 7 wonders of the world. Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus

Johannesburg - The direct contribution to the economy of the local travel and tourism industry has grown almost fourfold in the past 21 years, according to a report produced by Gillian Saunders, Grant Thornton’s head of advisory services.

She was was speaking on the Candid Business radio show on Cliffcentral.com this week, in conversation with Ellis Mnyandu and Arnie Hicks.

Mnyandu is the editor of Business Report and the executive producer of the show and Hicks is the associate producer and co-host.

In 1993, travel and tourism’s direct contribution to real gross domestic product (GDP) was R24.5 billion and Saunders is forecasting that this contribution will reach R107.6bn this year.

The advent of democracy in 1994 was a catalyst for the strong growth in the travel and tourism sector, which grew on average by 4.7 percent a year from 1993, Saunders said.

The sector’s direct contribution as a percentage of GDP has also swelled from 1.7 percent in 1993 to 4.3 percent.

The number of direct jobs in the sector has improved significantly from 243 570 in 1993 to 664 500 in 2014.

At the same time as the sector has grown, South Africa has gone from having not one World Heritage Site in 1994 to eight today. These include Robben Island, the Drakensberg and the Richtersveld.

Saunders said a recent World Economic Forum competitiveness report ranked South Africa 62nd in terms of tourism competitiveness.

“Where we do well is with protected areas and prioritisation within government. Where we do badly is skills and skills development for the industry.”

She said a key issue for attracting tourists was the lack of public transport. “We are number one globally in terms of world tourism competitiveness for car hire because we don’t have enough public transport,” she added.

Research by accounting and advisory firm Grant Thornton shows that the size of the local car hire fleet has grown from 25 000 vehicles in 1994 to 65 000 in 2014.

Saunders said the Gautrain, especially the link between OR Tambo International Airport and Sandton, was critical for tourism and provided a great impression for tourists arriving in Johannesburg.

South Africa had a strong national tourism strategy, adopted by the cabinet in 2012.

She said there was a lot of scope for growing domestic tourism. “We are under [performing] on domestic tourism and we believe we can grow that a lot more. Given the economic growth, given the middle class and well-paid blue collar workers, let’s get them to spend their money in the tourism industry.”

Turning to townships, Saunders said that there was very little marketing aimed at them or to get residents to want to travel within the country.

“If you look around the world, the government has become involved with coupons or discounts. Take the old South Africa, there was a chain of Aventura resorts, which were built by the Afrikaners for the Afrikaners. Now we need something similar to stimulate the industry.”

A key constraint for the local tourism industry was safety and security, Saunders said. “We fight against the perception that South Africa is a dangerous place to visit.”

The country’s tourism budget was low compared with other countries, such as Australia, Saunders said.

“We are competing against destinations with big budgets. We have a very good, friendly product.

“During the 2010 World Cup, visitors said how fantastic we were – that we were a welcoming nation.”

Saunders said, however, that there was a disconnect between local and provincial tourism authorities.

A key issue related to tourism was visas, but Saunders said South Africa had a very unfriendly visa regime on a number of fronts.


* Candid Business can be heard on Cliffcentral.com each Monday from 1pm to 2pm.