Cape Town - Tourism is the new mining. So says South African Tourism chief executive Thulani Nzima, visiting Cape Town ahead of the Mercedes-Benz Cape Town Fashion Week, for which international style gurus have fixed their sights on the Mother City.
The Cape Town International Convention Centre hosts the event from Thursday until Saturday.
“There is this misconception that fashion week is about the catwalk,” Nzima said. “It’s much more than that. It’s about lifestyle. It’s a platform to showcase Africa.”
He said that fashion buyers from around the world were used to going to Paris and Milan. But Cape Town was beginning to feature on the global couture compass.
The city enjoyed the lion’s share of tourism arrivals in the country. “It is endowed with natural beauty. No matter how other provinces want to compete, they don’t have Table Mountain, Robben Island, the wine routes.”
The Mother City’s appearance on the top of hot destination rankings in international media has made it the place to be this year. The New York Times rated it the number one place to go and the British Guardian named it the top holiday spot of the year.
Conference facilities are also drawing delegates and revenue. Last year, South Africa hosted 94 000 international delegates at 118 conferences, bringing in just shy of R1-billion.
Nzima welcomed the expansion plans for the Cape Town International Convention Centre, saying it was “not only a welcome injection for tourism, it is also a vote of confidence”.
Nzima, who spent 13 years with SAA in senior and executive positions, said tourists should not be nervous to fly after passenger flight MH17 was shot down over the Ukraine last week.
“In the short term, it’s a shock... You may see apprehension when it comes to the decision to travel by air, but over time it’s going to normalise once again.”
The two biggest problems for South Africa’s tourism, he said, were the fact that the country was a long-haul destination for most visitors and was perceived to be dangerous.
The Oscar Pistorius murder trial had added to the image of a violent country, he said, adding: “No policing in the world could have stopped that. It is not a sign of a country in turmoil riddled with crime.”
But there is a silver lining, the tourism chief says. South Africa has the opportunity to showcase the maturity of its criminal justice system to the world.
On the issue of the new visa regulations, Nzima said he was reserving judgement while the ministers of tourism and home affairs discussed how the new rules would affect tourists.
What Nzima did say was that the economy benefited greatly from tourism. “Tourism is the new mining. We can’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”