10 million tourists expected this year

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cape Town - A record 10 million tourists are expected to pass through South Africa's ports of entry this year, says Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

This is 500 000 arrivals more than the 9.5 million who visited the country in 2008.

With just 100 days to go to the kick off of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, van Schalkwyk said this was a "major achievement".

Briefing the media on Tuesday as part of the Economic and Employment Creation Cluster, he said while the global tourism industry saw a decline of 4 percent, South Africa was able to outperform competitors and experienced growth, be it at a lower level after a record four years of double-digit growth.

However, he said the country could not rest on its laurels and had for too long relied on leisure tourism and needed to diversify if it was to continue to encourage more people to visit the country.

His department planned to focus more on the areas of tourism generated by business travellers and conventions, which currently make up 6 percent of foreign arrivals.

"We want to be, in a few years, one of the top 10 long-haul convention destinations in the world and to do that we will have to professionalise our approach," he said.

Van Schalkwyk said the department wanted to launch a national convention bureau to put a stop to the country's main conference destinations, Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg, undermining one another.

He said sporting events were a "giant" opportunity for South Africa too and presently sports events accounted for 10 percent of foreign arrivals.

The World Cup would attract about 300 000 to 450 000 visitors and Van Schalkwyk said he had "no doubt" that the country had enough rooms.

Commenting on the speculation that hotels and guest houses had unfairly inflated room tariffs for the event, he said a report was being compiled by Grant Thornton to look into whether this indeed was the case.

"It's very anecdotal what we are hearing. I haven't seen a general trend towards overpricing in the accommodation sector, but it's important that we have facts," he said, adding that the issue of aircraft pricing was being investigated by the Competition Commission.