Kirstenbosch Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway and informally called 'The Boomslang' (meaning tree snake). Picture: Adrian de Kock
Cape Town - Crime experts have warned that rising contact crimes are eating away at the country's tourism profits as the sector grew by only 2.4% compared to a global growth rate of 7%.

Johan Burger, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said it was becoming increasingly difficult to market the country as more people emigrate to countries like Australia and New Zealand.

“That does not paint a really good picture of the country when its own citizens are leaving because of the crime situation. We have so many attacks on tourists in Cape Town and Johannesburg. In the Cape, the beautiful walking trails and Table Mountain can often be a haven for criminals. These are the places tourist frequent,” he said.

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Burger said the attacks on tourists might not be big news here, but they spark widespread criticism overseas.

“We had an attack on a bus transporting Dutch tourists. Now these are targeted attacks on tourists who have iPads, expensive iPhones and cameras and most with monies on them. It's easy pickings for criminals. These kinds of attacks might not make the front pages of newspapers but, in the Netherlands, it sparked quite an uproar. Our visitors are not used to these kinds of attacks,” he said.

Although there are several challenges in the tourism sector, it has remained resilient. In 2017, a total of 10.2 million overseas visitors touched down in the country.

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Visitors from neighbouring countries stood at 7.5million which showed an 0.8% improvement from 2016 while 3.4million Americans visited the country - 7.8% more than in 2016.

European arrivals were up 7.6% at 1.6million. Central and South America showed the biggest growth with 107582 arrivals, up 59.3% from 2016.

There was also some growth in the Middle East and Australasian markets which showed 4.4% and 1.4% growth since 2016 respectively.

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Tourist arrivals from Asia were down 3.3% while the visitors from the Indian Ocean Island also took a 4.4% drop.

SA Tourism chief executive Sisa Ntshona said visa issues and crime were the biggest issues troubling the economy.

“It is true that these issues are eating at our profits. But we must remember that these issues of crime are not in South Africa alone. When one tourist is mugged in our country, that sparks major news, while in Paris maybe 10 tourists get mugged, but that hardly gets the media’s attention. Yes, crime is negatively affecting the tourism sector but, like many other problems in our country, we have a counter-act to it. Like airport safety in Gauteng was a problem, we hardly see those problems [anymore],” he said.

Ntshona said Africa is judged far too harshly by overseas countries.

“When we have a terrorist attack in Kenya, that affects tourist arrivals in South Africa. When one waits a long time for a taxi or an Uber at the airport that is perceived to be a massive problem, as if the whole system is a failure. When the same happens in America or Europe, it's perceived differently,” he said.

Asked how to address problems, he said: “Word of mouth. The success lies in visitors going back home and spreading a good message about our country. That is the only solution.”

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Cape Argus