Although tourist arrivals are not yet at pre-pandemic levels, the latest figures show that a significant and rapid recovery is underway. This is taking place in the midst of heightened political and economic uncertainty across the world and particular challenges, especially around electricity supply, here at home.
Yet, despite these difficult conditions, visitors see South Africa as an attractive destination with unparalleled natural beauty, warm and hospitable people, and good value.
The potential of our tourism industry was evident at Africa’s Travel Indaba held in eThekwini earlier this month. The Travel Indaba is one of the largest tourism marketing events on the continent and regularly attracts high numbers of exhibitors, marketing bodies and representatives from hotels, airlines and tour operators and media from Africa and the rest of the world. We were able to showcase the great variety of our tourism products to give further impetus to our recovery.
Of the exhibitors at the Indaba, over 120 were small local tourism enterprises that were supported by Government to display their unique products and services, expand their networks and foster partnerships. This is part of our commitment to nurturing small operators in the tourism sector to encourage transformation and the creation of many more jobs.
Not only are we seeing more tourists coming to our shores, but they are also spending more during their visits – more than R25 billion in the first quarter of 2023. This is a valuable stream of foreign exchange, sustaining and creating jobs and enabling further investment in our tourism infrastructure.
The release of these figures during Africa Month is particularly encouraging given that the majority of visitors to South Africa in 2022, approximately 4 million, were from our continent. Travellers from the region and the broader continent are increasingly seeing South Africa as a premier tourism destination and are flocking here to experience our natural wonders and to spend money at South African businesses.
Given the importance of growing tourism to South Africa’s economy, we are determined to forge ahead with the process of immigration reform to improve our competitiveness as a tourism destination.
The recovery of South Africa’s aviation sector is also supporting tourism growth.
South African Airways is expanding into ever more markets on the continent, and we are seeing the resumption of direct flights from major destinations. By way of example, Air China has resumed direct flights to South Africa, and United Airlines now flies directly to New York and Washington DC.
The latest tourism figures are very encouraging and should strengthen our resolve to ensure that tourism becomes one of the biggest drivers of our economic recovery.