Tourism minister Derek Hanekom says South African can increase foreign visitors numbers by 50 percent over the next five years. Picture: Paballo Thekiso

Johannesburg - Tourism minister Derek Hanekom says South African can increase foreign visitors numbers by 50 percent over the next five years – and he has pledged to remove “barriers to growth” including the current immigration regulations.

In an address from World Tourism Day, which was celebrated in Parys in the Free State, Hanekom said immigrations regulations would be addressed along with other negative issues such as licensing for tourist operations.

Other areas hampering successful tourism business, such as overly-restrictive municipal bylaws, would be “harmonised”.

He revealed that government and the tourist industry were working together in joint marketing agreements (JMAs), funded by both parties.

“These JMAs target high yielding markets - the United Kingdom, United States of America, Germany and China - and early indications are that this approach is paying off,” said Hanekom.

He said the government was establishing a “bidding fund for events.”

This fund, he said, would “consolidate our position as the leading business events destination on the continent.”

He added: “The additional 5 million tourists that we want to attract to South Africa will provide many more jobs for our people, and more opportunities for entrepreneurs and communities to become involved in tourism.”

Hanekom said international tourism grew by 4.4 percent in 2015, the sixth consecutive year of above-average growth, and arrivals are projected to grow by four percent this year, according to the UNWTO.

In the first six months of this year, South African received 14percent more tourists than between January and July last year.

“Tourists are finding incredible value for money when they visit South Africa, and we continue to win international awards.

“Just last week, the internationally influential Condé Nast magazine put South Africa at number 4 on the list of the Top 20 countries in the world to visit, France, Spain, Thailand, Morocco and Australia, who are highly developed travel destinations.

If we can beat competition like that, we have a lot to celebrate.”

Hanekom noted that World Tourism Day comes at the end of the high season in the northern hemisphere and the beginning of the season in the southern hemisphere.

“Right now, there will be great interest in SA as a destination among the world’s travellers.

Many leading global brands are also expressing their confidence in our tourism industry by investing in our economy, including Marriott International, who recently acquired Protea Hotels, Starbucks, Burger King and Amadeus.”

Focusing specifically on the Free State, which was the centre of a campaign to encourage local tourism to a “less visited province”, Hanekom said about 1.2 million people travelled into the Free State last year, 15percent more than 2014.

He said the Free State’s natural and cultural assets have great potential to attract domestic tourists.

He said SA Tourism has been allocated a ring-fenced budget of just over R100-million a year for the next few years specifically for domestic tourism. Success will depend on making domestic tourism more affordable for more of our people.

The Star