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AAs most of you know, tourism is one of the most competitive and fastest growing sectors in the world. More than 1.4 billion people travelled internationally around the world in 2018. Global tourism is very dynamic; travellers can choose from a huge variety of destinations to visit.
In 2017 South Africa hosted 10.3 million of these international travellers, of whom almost 1.7 million were from Europe. We have a world-class tourism offering, and, we are confident that we can still significantly grow our tourism arrivals from Europe and elsewhere.
South Africa and our cities and destinations have received numerous accolades over the years. We offer a range of unparalleled wildlife experiences; amazingly diverse and immersive culture and heritage offerings; vibrant cities, adrenalin pumping (or soft) adventure, 2 700 kilometres of wondrous coastline as well as spectacular natural attractions. Couple that with friendly people and great infrastructure; truly we are a destination that not many other countries can match. And we boast plenty of unexplored gems, new areas, activities and attractions that are adding to our uniqueness as a tourism destination. As an emerging tourist destination, with great potential, we are definitely poised for more growth.
This year, South Africa celebrates 25 years of democracy, and we are coming up to our 6th democratic elections, which we know will be just as peaceful as the previous ones. We have come a long way since 1994. Amongst many achievements, our international arrivals have grown four-fold. We have seen international hotel brands come to our shores and many more international airlines serving our destination. We have 10 declared world heritage sites; we have expanded the footprint of our national parks, added numerous casino and leisure complexes and three world-class international convention centres, with many more in our secondary and tertiary cities, and we have created countless other authentic experiences. More importantly, our tourism economy is inclusive, as many people who were previously excluded from participating are now benefiting in a meaningful way. We have seen the emergence of some of the biggest black-owned tourism companies such as the Thebe Tourism Group and Tourvest, as well as numerous smaller black-owned businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector.
Just like any developing country, we have a number of challenges that we must address decisively. We are aware of a range of issues cited by international travellers - issues that sometimes discourage them from considering us as a tourist destination of choice. Some travellers are still uncertain about the long-term effects of the drought we experienced in Cape Town in 2018 and they continue to seek clarity around the revised immigration regulations, particularly issues around birth certificates for children.
Our government remains committed to doing everything possible to ensure the safety of our citizens and tourists. We are also working hard to remove barriers to make it easier for all foreign travellers to visit South Africa.
During his state of the nation address on February 7, 2019, President Ramaphosa re-emphasised our commitment to “strengthen our fight against crime and corruption”. Let me place it on record: South Africa is not a ‘war zone’.
We have also been made aware that some travellers are still uncertain about birth certificates being demanded at airports. We have had talks with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) about this and it has certainly been addressed. Our immigration officials are also undergoing intensive training to better understand and handle the changes. We have also distributed explanatory notes about the changes to the travel trade and to SA Tourism’s country representatives around the world.
This year, we are starting the introduction of e-visas, which will make a huge difference, easing the process of obtaining visas in all visa-requiring countries. To once more quote President Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address: “Our highest priority this year will be on the introduction of a world-class eVisa regime”.
Citizens of Cape Town and the tourism industry faced a tough period in 2018, when Cape Town was hit by a severe drought and water restrictions. But, in adversity we find new ways of doing things. We are now a global leader in sustainable water practices in tourism and are modelling a new global norm - how the tourism industry conserves water and delivers every element of a tourist’s travel experience in a water conscious way.
Tsogo Sun and 12 other major hotels have invested in desalination plants. Grey water recycling, reverse osmosis plants and rain water harvesting systems have become the norm in many hotels. Cape town dam levels are at above 65% of storage capacity. Even though travellers wishing to visit South Africa are still encouraged to use water wisely, the city’s restaurants and tourist attractions have always been open for business. It remains something we are very proud of and continue to share our experiences with other major cities that are experiencing what we did last year. With this, in 2018, Cape Town again earned top honour and was named Best Destination in Africa at the World Tourism Awards. The city was also named TripAdvisor’s Top Destination and was in the top ten for Travel and Leisure’s World’s Best Cities last year.
We are building on this to lead in all aspects of responsible tourism. Truth is, South Africa has always been a global champion of responsible tourism. We are proud that we were the first country to include “Responsible Tourism” in our national tourism policy.
The issue of land reform in South Africa has been in world news recently. We have noted with concern the misconceptions, fuelled by right wing organisations, that there are land grabs in South Africa. This is simply not true. After a decade of slow growth, the South African government has embarked on a big investment drive to stimulate economic growth and create new jobs. Among the greatest obstacles to growth is the severe inequality between black and white South Africans. One of the areas where this disparity is still manifest is in the ownership and access to land. There will be no land grabs or arbitrary deprivation of private property in South Africa. The proposed changes in the draft expropriation bill tabled in Parliament in December 2018 continue to enshrine property rights and simply spell out instances where expropriation with no compensation may be appropriate.
Land reform in South Africa is a moral, social and economic imperative. By bringing more land into productive use, and by giving more South Africans assets and opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, the country is creating conditions for greater, more inclusive growth. There has been healthy debate around this issue, which has resulted in a strengthened resolve from both government and agricultural organisations to work together to find beneficial and sustainable solutions to the legacy of land dispossession during the apartheid era.
Speaking at the Africa Travel Summit hosted by Airbnb at the Guga S'thebe Cultural Centre in Cape Town last year, Jerry Mabena, CEO of Thebe Tourism, said “Take emotions out of the land debate and rather look at how fallow land can be turned into tourist destinations to benefit surrounding communities”.
There are so many reasons for travellers to come to South Africa. Besides the natural wonders South Africa boasts, our tourism offering has grown, and our warm and welcoming citizens coupled with a wide array of attractions provide a holiday destination like no other. We can assure travellers of an authentic, rewarding, and inspiring experience.
Come meet South Africa at stand number 138 in Hall 20!