SA attracts record tourist arrivals
Environment and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said the latest statistics represented the first time the tourist arrivals to country had breached the 2.5-million mark, putting the country on course to break last year’s record arrival figures.
“Our first quarter figures indicate that we are well on target to surpass last year’s record tourism arrival figure of 7.3 million,” Van Schalkwyk said.
“We have seen a 16 percent increase in arrivals across all territories compared to the same period last year, which translates into almost 377 000 more visitors (in all territories),” he added.
The boom was in spite of a soaring crime rate that many believed would damage the country’s tourism profile.
Crime statistics announced by Safety and Security Minister Charles Ngqakula two weeks ago indicated that the country still has one of the highest incidence of crime in the world, with an estimated 19 000 murder cases, 55 000 rapes and 120 000 robberies reported in the past year.
However, despite the Southern Africa nation’s highly publicised crime profile, tourists continue to flock into the country, with Cape Town and the Kruger National Park being the major destinations.
“There’s definitely a lot that you hear when you’re at home, but I think the thing that got us to come was the fact that there’s so much to see and do and that the people are quite friendly in spite of what is said about the crime,” said 51-year-old American tourist Paul Manning.
Despite already having one of the world’s highest tourism profiles, this year’s figures are thought to have been significantly boosted by the country’s status as the next soccer World Cup destination.
According to Van Schalkwyk, the country was “already beginning to see the benefits” of its “elevated international profile” due to its status as the next World Cup host.
In comparison with other international destinations in Asia, Europe and the Americas, tourist sites in Africa and the Middle East had witnessed greater growth.
World Tourism Review figures indicate that Africa and the Middle East had growth of 21.9 percent, followed by Asia and Australasia at 7.1 percent.
“The data reveals that our international competitiveness compares favourably with other countries,” Van Schalkwyk said.
He noted that Australia, rated among the world’s best tourism destinations, had only 1.9 million first quarter arrivals, compared to South Africa’s 2.7 million.
The largest proportion of international tourists to South Africa continue to come from the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States.
Statistics indicate that there has been continued growth in arrivals from the US in all months so far this year, as well as a 3.6 percent increase in tourists from Europe.
Van Schalkwyk said the government was currently undertaking a tourism skills audit in an effort to maintain the steady growth in the sector as a way of ensuring that it did not run into “capacity constraints” ahead of the World Cup.
Projects being conducted in coming months would also focus on beginning preparations for the 2010 soccer extravaganza, particularly promoting the development of tourism sites and small, medium and micro-enterprises involved in the tourism field.