BY MATHIAS RINGA
International tourist arrivals to South Africa grew 2.4 per cent to 10.3 million last year.
According to South African Tourism chief executive officer, Sisa Ntshona, international visitor numbers increased to 10.3 million in 2017 up from 10.04 million in 2016.
Of the 10.3 million tourists, who visited South Africa last year, he added, more than 70 per cent came from the African continent.
The South African Tourism boss said: “Africa is a key market for our tourism industry. From the continent alone, we received more than 7.5 million visitors.”
He attributed the large number of Africans visiting South Africa to good infrastructure, quality products and services, and aggressive marketing campaigns by South African Tourism across the continent.
From the overseas markets, international tourist arrivals to South Africa grew 7.2 per cent to 2.7 million up from 2.53 million the previous year.
“From the European markets, the United Kingdom still remains our top market in terms of tourist arrivals despite the Brexit challenges. Last year, we welcomed 447,901 British holidaymakers,” Mr Ntshona explained.
“Germany came second with 349,211 tourist arrivals, France was third with 196,165 arrivals, while the Netherlands market had 159,621 visitor numbers.”
Tourist arrivals from the US to South Africa grew 7.5 per cent to 370,747 in 2017, making it the second top overseas market after the UK.
Mr Ntshona said he was also impressed by the growth in visitor numbers from the Central and South American markets of 59.3 per cent to 107,582 in 2017 up from 67,546 in 2016.
“In the Asian markets, India led with 97,921 visitors, while we received 97,271 tourists from China. From the Middle East, we welcomed 55,906 visitors in 2017 up from 53,536 the previous year,” he added.
Tourist arrivals from Australia to South Africa increased 6.5 per cent to 116,257 last year up from 109,146 in 2016.
Mr Ntshona pointed out that South African Tourism would continue with its marketing campaigns in both traditional and emerging markets in a bid to drive tourist numbers in the country.
Following the successful hosting of Meetings Africa 2018 at Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg last week, which was attended by over 3,000 delegates from across the world, the South African Tourism boss expressed hope that 2018 might be a better year for the industry.
“Meetings Africa is a very important event for us. The international delegates, who visit here for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) after being captivated by our country, later come back with their families for longer stay,” he said.
Mr Ntshona noted that South African Tourism was banking on its leading events, Meetings Africa and the continent’s premier travel show, Africa’s Travel Indaba, to boost tourist arrivals in the country.
Africa’s Travel Indaba is set to be held at the Inkosi Albert Lithuli International Convention Centre in Durban from May 8-10.
MICE, he added, had great potential to turn around the country’s tourism sector.
He noted that South Africa had an edge over its competitors on the continent due to its world class conference facilities and good infrastructure.
South African Tourism through the South Africa National Convention Bureau has already helped secure more than 170 bids for the next five years with a total economic impact estimated at R3 billion.
Last week, outgoing South African Tourism Minister, Tokozile Xasa, said tourism industry generates 252,000 jobs per annum and contributes R115 billion to the country’s economy.
Ms Xasa noted that tourism does present the opportunity and potential to double the growth and job opportunity figures, as per the call by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Ms Xasa added that the tourism sector had been mandated to double its efforts to create an additional 700,000 jobs.