South African tourism has ‘huge growth potential’: minister

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South Africa will speed up visa processes and lure major conferences in an effort to boost foreign arrivals by 40% by 2021, the tourism minister said on Friday.

The new measures are part of a goal to attract five million additional travellers – four million international tourists and one million extra local holiday trips and will help limit the “blip” a major drought is having on South Africa’s top tourist draw card, Cape Town, said minister Derek Hanekom.

“I am bullish because there is huge growth potential,” Hanekom told Reuters in an interview.

“On the international front conditions are very much in our favour so its going to be easier to achieve the four million part than the one million,” he said.

Tourism, which contributes more than R400 billion ($34 billion) to Africa’s most industrialized economy, or around 8% of GDP, is seen by government as key to help drive growth and reduce a stubbornly high unemployment rate.

South Africa emerged from a recession last year but is struggling to grow its economy and less disposal income means locals are hesitant to travel.

However, the long-haul destination still provides good value for money for foreign tourists attracted to its white beaches, iconic Table Mountain and wildlife safaris.

Earlier this month, the World Travel and Tourism Council said travel and tourism would contribute around R424.5 billion to the overall economy in 2018, before rising by 3.5 percent a year to 598.6 billion or 10.1 percent of GDP in 2028.

Besides establishing a fund which is geared to help South Africa win more global conferences and exhibitions, Hanekom said home affairs officials were also developing online visa applications, as well as possibly producing them for tourists on arrival at airports.

“Of course the first prize for us and the easiest is when visitors from particulars countries don’t need visas at all,” he said.

Hanekom said discussions with home affairs and foreign relations departments would consider granting more countries visa waivers for short trips, following success with visitor numbers from Russia which increased 57% last year.

Tourism officials said current visa processes were putting off tourists from China, India and Nigeria, some of the world’s largest outbound travel markets.