Bold plans for tourism

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Polokwane - The Tourism Department wants to increase South Africa's domestic tourism figures from the current estimated seven million to more than 17 million by 2020. 

This comes as government's new economic growth path identified tourism as being among the top sectors to help the state achieve its economic objectives for the country.

The department this week unveiled its revamped 2011 leg of the famous Sho't Left campaign, in which it plans to spend more than R30 million in a series of road trips and advertisements aimed at rallying communities behind the brand South Africa. 

Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, who was speaking during one of the road trips in Limpopo on Tuesday, said domestic tourism remained the backbone of his department's plans to contribute more than R500 billion to the GDP 2020. 

Domestic tourism is the largest contributor to South Africa's tourism volume and is responsible for 79 percent of all tourists in the country. 

The Sho't Left campaign is part of government's overall tourism strategy and the idea is to promote the culture of tourism among South Africans, with the focus aimed at the small and the least visited provinces. 

"For us, investing in domestic tourism remains our critical priority. Domestic tourism is our backbone and the government has now started to realise the role of this sector and it now forms part of the new growth path," van Schalkwyk said. 

He also announced a positive growth in domestic figures for 2010, with marked increases in the length of trips taken and the money spent on holidays as compared to 2009.

"For the first time in many years, we have seen increases in key areas such as frequency, overall spend and the length of stay," said the minister. 

More than 13.5 million travelers undertook a domestic trip over the last year, with an average of 2.2 trips per traveler. It was a slight increase from the 2.1 annual trips per traveler made in 2009. 

While the department recorded less domestic travels in 2010, the increases in spending and the regularity of travelling showed that South Africans were starting to "embrace" the culture of travel. 

Officials said while the total annual spend on domestic tourism was down from R22.4 billion recorded in 2009 to R21.1 billion, they were encouraged by the increase in spending to 31 percent last year compared to 22 percent in 2010. 

This has been partly attributed to the euphoria brought on by the Soccer World Cup, as people were likely to have been encouraged to spend more on certain luxuries and entertainment. 

The good news for the accommodation sector is that the total annual nights spent in establishments for domestic travel increased to more than 130 million in 2010 as compared to 124 million the previous year. 

But the minister maintained that while the trend in domestic tourism figures had remained upward over the year, the challenge was to turn this into a "tangible" opportunity for job creation and economic growth. 

Based on the government's new growth path and focus on job creation, South Africa Tourism plans to increase the current R199 billion contributed by the sector to the GDP to about R500 billion by 2020. 

"We have to make sure that it contributes to job creation while helping us to achieve economic growth at the same time," he added. 

SA Tourism CEO Thandiwe January-Mclean also said investing in domestic tourism will form part of the organisation's future growth plan, adding that the idea was to promote all nine provinces, even those situated far away from the coast and other popular tourist sites. 

"We have to ensure that South Africans travel their country and become tourists in their own country, and for us to achieve this we have to let them know that something beautiful exists in all provinces," she said.