SA tourism bouncing back
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Johannesburg - South Africa is bouncing back from the severe tourism slump it suffered after the introduction of strict new visa requirements for foreign visitors earlier this year, says Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom.
“Reports from tour operators and hotels show there has been a big uptick in bookings through October and December,” he told Independent Newspapers during a ministerial imbizo at Wupperthal in the Western Cape.
Hanekom said he didn’t believe the surge in bookings could be solely attributed to the cabinet’s announcing that it would relax the birth certificate requirements for single parents and biometric testing stipulations for all prospective visitors. “In truth, those requirements are still in place but the announcement that we have started the process of relaxing them has helped dispel the perception that South Africa is a difficult country to visit.”
Other factors that contributed to the increase in the number of tourist bookings had been the removal of the Ebola virus threat and the further weakening of the rand.
“This makes South Africa… an incredible value-for-money tourism proposition.”
Hanekom said the “in-person visa application requirement had a massive impact on Chinese tourism. There are 120 million outbound tourists from China every year and those wanting to visit South Africa dropped by 30 percent in the first six months of this year compared to 2014.
“The Department of Tourism has submitted to our colleagues at Home Affairs the names of certain tour companies and travel agencies that we feel can submit visa applications on behalf of their clients.
“I will visit China early in 2016 with some tour operators … in an attempt to win back what we have lost.”
Hanekom believes “we can win back the Chinese fairly quickly”.
African wildlife destinations such as Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe had benefited to a small degree from South Africa’s image being tarnished by the visa controversy.
“Kenya and Tanzania are much closer to Europe and provide fantastic game-viewing opportunities but these are much more expensive than here, especially Tanzania and Kenya.”
However, he added, these two countries had been hit hard by the threat of terrorism.
“Although Kenya and Tanzania can claim closer proximity to Europe, North America and Asia, South Africa has a much greater variety of wildlife experience and at a lower price – even at the top end of the market.”
Hanekom praised his Zimbabwean counterpart, Walter Mzembi, saying he was “very dynamic and getting things moving”.
“Zimbabwe sees Victoria Falls as their key tourism magnet and the Chinese have invested $150 million (R2.1 billion) in upgrading the airport there.
“But Zimbabwe has much more than Victoria Falls to offer: I have a friend who went to the Mana Pools national park recently and he said he had never in his life seen as much game as he saw there.”