The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company in Cape Town has seen its number of visitors grow from 880,000 to 1.1 million. Picture: Supplied.

When it comes to the global tourism industry, the attractions and experiences sector is showing promising growth. Local industry leaders are urging South Africa to increase their relevance as a competitive and popular tourist destination.

The Global Attractions Attendance report by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), which was compiled with economics research consultancy firm AECOM, shows that all surveyed themed attractions drew almost seven percent of the global population in 2018. That comes down to ten times South Africa’s entire population. 

The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC) in Cape Town, for instance, has seen its number of visitors grow by 25 percent between 2014 and 2018, from 880 000 to 1.1 million.

Wahida Parker, TMACC Managing Director, said like elsewhere in the world, attractions and experiences are in high demand among tourists who visit South Africa. 

“By creating even more bespoke and authentic experiences, our attractions industry can capture the hearts and minds of foreign arrivals. These opportunities provide our country with the capability to compete with global attractions hotpots in developed countries like the US, Europe, as well as emerging markets such as Brazil.”

Mike Williams, TMACC Operations Manager, said to expand our tourism sector, South Africa's tourism industry needs to innovate and offer our visitors what they want, including attractions like water parks and museums to cable car rides and lookout points.

One particular category South Africa can excel in is Observation Experiences. These are classified as attractions that give people a bird's-eye view of their holiday destinations, including towers, tall bridges, lookout decks on top of tall buildings and cable car rides. Globally, this sector is growing because of increasing urbanisation and technology that allows for higher building heights – and the quest among travellers to get a different view of their surroundings.

“If we are able to mobilise ourselves and come together as a collective, South Africa would be able to generate millions from its mountains, buildings and other observation points,” Williams said.

Parker said South Africa needed to make use of its natural heritage. “South Africa may not have many theme parks, but we have a myriad of sites that lend themselves to this. We are the home of three of Africa’s tallest buildings and then there is, of course, natural landmarks like Table Mountain in Cape Town and the Drakensberg in Kwa-Zulu Natal,” she said. 

Expanding SA growing tourism sector

The number of foreign tourists flocking to South Africa’s shores has grown significantly over the past 10 years, despite the occasional fluctuation. According to the Department of Home Affairs, just over 7 million holidaymakers arrived in our country in 2009. Last year, this figure stood at 10.5 million, an increase of 49.8 percent. 

SA Tourism estimates that tourists contribute R102.8-billion towards our economy each year. When looking at the knock-on effects for other sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing, these contributions should be multiplied by four, the 2018 Annual Report of SA Tourism shows.

The travel sector employs more than 1.5 million people. “Growing our tourism sector by attracting foreign visitors can contribute significantly to our economy. By creating jobs for hundreds of thousands of South Africans, we can reduce unemployment and fight poverty and other social ills,” Parker concludes.