SOUTH Africa had achieved strong growth in tourism in the first quarter of this year, continuing the trend of the past year when the country experienced an exceptional 10.2% growth in the number of international tourists, Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said in Parliament on Tuesday.
The first-quarter performance bodes well for another good year for South Africa in terms of international arrivals, the minister told a summit on tourism organised by the portfolio committee on tourism.
In 2012, South Africa recorded 13-million international arrivals, of which 9.2-million were tourists.Particularly encouraging, the minister said, was the strong growth in tourists from Europe during the first quarter after a long period of stagnation. The number of German tourists grew 17%, France 14% and Italy 17%, while the UK grew 3% off a high base.
The growth in tourist numbers from emerging markets in the first quarter of the year, according to figures provided by Statistics South Africa, was equally strong with Chinese tourism registering a 37.4% increase, India 22%, Nigeria 22% and Ghana 46%.Mr van Schalkwyk stressed that the stiff competition in the international tourism market and the need for South Africa to innovate and diversify its product offering to "stay ahead of the game".
While wildlife tourism would remain the backbone of the industry, South Africa needed to diversify its offering to include its cultural heritage, lifestyle products and conventions.
Foreign tourists spent a total of R76.4-billion in South Africa last year, up 7.6% on the total foreign direct spend in the country in 2012.
also emphasised the need to build a strong domestic tourism industry, which currently contributes R10bn to the economy annually.To extend the infrastructure for domestic tourism, the Industrial Development Corporation was conducting an audit of state assets to determine which could be converted into tourist facilities, particularly for the low-income market.
Africa was vital to South Africa’s future tourism strategy and Mr van Schalkwyk welcomed South African Airways’ plans to expand its services on the continent.
"Africa is key to what we want to achieve," the minister said. He acknowledged that the relationship between the Department of Tourism and SAA in the past had not been "very constructive" as their strategies were not aligned, but said this was now "going much better".