JOHANNESBURG - Despite the prevailing tough economic environment, South Africa's tourism industry is expected to be one of a few that will boost growth and create jobs this year, First National Bank said on Wednesday.

The World Travel and Tourism Council says the industry is the fastest growing in the country, contributing close to nine percent to gross domestic product while employing over 1.6 million people.

Among the four trends to look out for in the sector is "bleisure travel'' in which travellers combine business travel with leisure time, FNB business executive Marcel Klaassen said. He noted that many companies were seeing more of their executives and employees jump on this bandwagon.

Another trend is technology, with a Google Travel study showing that 74 percent of travellers plan their trips on the internet, while only 13 percent still use travel agencies.

Klaassen also noted a growing number of people who travel as a multi-generational family to spend more time together, while an overlooked form of tourism was medical-related, with a significant increase in the number of visitors from neighbouring countries coming to South Africa for medical treatment.

He said the average tourist stayed in South Africa for an estimated six days, meaning hospitality services, tour operators, transport, retail, wildlife and seaside attractions, spas and wellness centers all had an opportunity to gain from a medical tourist visiting South Africa.

"In order for this sector to continue growing, more collaboration is needed with government and the private sector – improving regulation, policy, funding and infrastructure just to mention a few," said Klaassen.

"We are optimistic that this sector will continue growing and employ more people this year."

- African News Agency (ANA)