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13 May 2012

Cooperation and removal of barriers to international travel needed to grow tourism

Achieving the tough targets contained in the National Tourism Sector Strategy will require strong partnerships and a collective approach.

Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk called for the removal of barriers to international travel at the opening of INDABA 2012. Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk called for the removal of barriers to international travel at the opening of INDABA 2012.

We must fight the aggressive unilateralism with which new taxes on international tourism are imposed. - Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Minister of Tourism

This was the message from South Africa’s Minister of Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, at the opening of INDABA 2012.

He said that in order to achieve the National Tourism Sector Strategy (NTSS) targets of 15 million international arrivals, a much greater emphasis on travel within and from Africa was needed, as well as growth in domestic tourists.

‘We are working towards a target of 18 million domestic tourists and 54 million domestic trips by 2020. Domestic tourists in 2011 stood at 13.9 million, undertaking 23.6 million trips.

While South Africa’s tourism sector had proved its resilience in tough global economic conditions, Van Schalkwyk said achieving the NTSS targets would require a new phase.

‘There are some areas in which we need to work with those international players with whom we also compete. "Co-opetition" is the name of the new game,’ he noted.

‘Competition brings out the best in us, but cooperation is what is urgently needed, especially on the African continent, where we have to work together to remove barriers to international travel and tourism,’ Van Schalkwyk explained.

He pointed to 3 current barriers: ‘We must harness technology to take the trouble out of travel. By 2020, I am convinced we will have implemented a system of e-visas that will improve security while also facilitating hassle-free travel.’

He added that at the T20 Tourism Ministers’ Meeting in Mexico, South Africa would be tabling a proposal for the G20 to work towards an e-visa system that would become operational long before 2020. He is attending the meeting with the tourism ministers of G20 countries.

He also called on like-minded partners in long-haul destinations to fight the 'aggressive unilateralism' with which new taxes on international tourism are imposed.

These include the United Kingdom air passenger duty (UK APD) and the European Union’s inclusion of all international flights in their domestic emissions trading scheme (ETS).

‘These taxes distort markets and affect passenger numbers and tourism receipts in long-haul developing-country destinations - and will increasingly do so in the years to come. That is why we’re pushing for a global solution to replace this patchwork of unilateral measures,’ he said.

The benefits of aviation in Africa also needed to be unlocked, said van Schalkwyk, adding that space for new-model low-cost airlines and advanced competition in the skies was needed. He said he also wanted to establish Johannesburg as a hub between continents.

‘In all of this, our national carrier, South African Airways, will have an important role to play. No long-haul destination can go without a properly capitalised, commercially viable national carrier that is well run and strategically focused. We as tourism people also know that we need more competition in the skies as well as partnerships with as many airlines as possible. We must offer our customers decent airfares and convenient air access,’ Van Schalkwyk concluded.