Tourism: South Africa's true gold mine

Published Feb 5, 2000


Tourism provides the path for the new South Africa's "long walk to economic freedom", but much more needs to be done to boost earnings from foreign visitors, with current income running way below the world average.

This is the challenge set by Environment and Tourism Minister Mohammed Valli Moosa as South Africa launches its biggest international tourism marketing campaign yet.

Moosa was speaking at a banquet hosted by the international advisory board of the Independent News and Media plc group on Friday night.

Tourism and the African Renaissance is the theme of an all-day discussion on Saturday, led by the Advisory Board, a group of influential international and South African figures.

Among its members are Ben Bradlee, former editor of the Washington Post, former New York mayor David Dinkins, former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, former United Kingdom chancellor of the exchequer Kenneth Clarke, and prominent South Africans including Professors Jakes Gerwel and Wiseman Nkuhlu, as well as Eric Molobi.

Moosa said on Friday night that "with relatively little marketing and even less strategic planning, foreign arrivals to South Africa have grown by 36 percent from 3,6 million in 1994 to 5,7 million in 1998, with an estimated 6,5 million foreign arrivals for 1999".

"But we fall behind when we start to count revenue. In the past decade, the tourism industry's direct contribution to our GDP has slowly climbed from 4,5 percent to just over 6 percent.

"Even if one takes into account the satellite industries of the tourism economy, the figure is 8,2 percent (0,4 percent behind mining) but far behind the world average of 11,7 percent."

Against the background of the World Travel and Tourism Council estimate that the global $4,5-trillion (R27-trillion) tourism industry would grow to a $10-trillion (R60-trillion) industry over the next 10 years, making its 4,3 percent growth rate one of the fastest in the world, "tourism could be a catalyst for economic growth in our country".

There had been a "quiet revolution" in economic thinking about the role of travel and tourism in the global economy.

"From traditionally being seen as a soft industry, the growth in affluence in the 1990s in the developed world has catapulted travel and tourism into the mainstream of economic debate.

"The World Travel and Tourism Council has calculated that one permanent job is created for every eight international tourists who visit a country.

"This is because tourism is a rapid job-creator, a foreign exchange earner, and through tourism's multiplier effects in other sectors, a boost for cultural industries and a range of small, medium and micro enterprises.

"During the Mandela period, we firmly established political stability and a modern democracy.

"The biggest challenge facing us in the Mbeki period is the eradication of poverty and the economic empowerment of black South Africans.

"It therefore stands to reason that an industry that can create one job for every eight tourists who visit our country must be a priority for us."

Moosa said that South Africa's tourism objectives "form a triangle of the interdependent goals".

"We must grow tourism in terms of market share and investment, while we protect and conserve our environment, and build our nation.

"Far from being contradictory, each of these objectives can and must reinforce the other in order for us to succeed."

The national consensus on tourism had resulted in the launch last month of the country's biggest joint government/private sector international tourism marketing campaign.

This week, government and business announced a R115-million human resource development programme for the tourist industry "so we can develop the skills needed for a tourist nation".

He outlined extensive initiatives to develop "transfrontier conservation areas" with neighbouring states, which would boost tourism and investment in the broader Southern African region, and "stand as a monument to regional economic integration".

Ecotourism was being developed in sympathy to the needs of the region's rich ecosystems, the source of immense tourist appeal.

Culture and history tourism was also being developed to match mounting world interest, and to affirm the dignity of the culture and history of Africa, long ignored under apartheid.

Moosa said: "For us, tourism is part of the long walk to economic freedom in our country.

"We walk with our head held high in the pride of our past, and the promise of our future." - Saturday Argus

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