Cape Town. 311009. Clifton fourth beach which is one of the Blue Flag status beaches. Picture Leon Lestrade

Johannesburg -

Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk launched the annual Blue Flag Season initiative at Grotto Beach in the Western Cape on Thursday.

He said Blue Flag beaches were becoming the beach of choice for holiday makers.

“As the number of Blue Flag beaches increases in South Africa, domestic visitors are increasingly exercising their choices in which beaches they visit.”

Ministerial spokeswoman Melene Rossouw said Grotto Beach was one of those awarded Blue Flag status this year.

This was its 11th flag since the initiative was introduced in the country 12 years ago.

The initiative, which began in Europe in 1987, encourages beaches and marina to comply with the European Union's Bathing Water Directive.

It monitors water quality, environmental education and information, management, safety and services.

Over 40 countries were currently participating in the programme, with a total of 3489 beaches and marinas awarded the Blue Flag status in 2012.

Rossouw said South Africa had 36 beaches and marina being monitored for the initiative, and four of them were awarded full flag status this year.

The tourism ministry was pleased with the progress the country was making in attracting visitors to the beaches.

“Travel receipts increased in the second quarter of 2012, rising by R5 billion to R83.5 billion,” Rossouw said.

“Tourist arrivals to our country increased by an overall 10.5 percent year-on-year during the first quarter and overseas arrivals increased by nearly 18 percent.” - Sapa