South African tourism remains resilient despite a downward trend globally, with domestic tourism contributing R20-billion to the country's economy in 2011, Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said at the launch of Tourism Month.
"Globally tourism was in serious trouble because of the financial crisis but in South Africa the picture continued to look good and the numbers are impressive," he said.
Tourism Month is celebrated annually during the month of September. The Eastern Cape, known for its attractive landscape, beautiful beaches and a wealth of natural resources, has been chosen as host of this year's main event later in the month.
South Africa's fastest growing sector
Figures show that domestic tourism, which is the focus on the Tourism Month campaign, contributed R20-billion to the national economy last year.
More than five-million domestic trips were recorded in South Africa in the first quarter of 2012, injecting R5.2-billion to the economy. This is over R600-million, or 13%, more than last year's economic contribution over the same period.
There is, therefore, a need to encourage more South Africans to become tourists in their own country, Van Schalkwyk said.
A message also needed to be conveyed that tourism remained a major driver of jobs and the fastest growing sector of the economy.
'Creating a nation of tourism ambassadors'
"When domestic tourism grows, we create a nation of tourism ambassadors who are knowledgeable and speak positively about our destination, who warmly welcome foreign tourists, and are helpful when they meet visitors," Van Schalkwyk said.
"Well-travelled locals can easily and confidently recommend to both foreign tourists and fellow South Africans the best places to visit in South Africa for the best local experiences."
A new campaign dubbed "Vaya Mzansi" has been launched and offers more than 2.5- million special offers and leisure deals to domestic tourists in order to stimulate domestic tourism.
Special offer vouchers include discounted rates on accommodation and leisure travel activities around South Africa for the duration of September.
Tapping the African market
Van Schalkwyk said the African market remained untapped and the next few years should lead to a more vigorous approach aimed at attracting Africans to visit the country.
"For us it is the market of the future, South Africa understands how important the African continent is, we can and we must do a lot more on the continent," he said.
As part of this, South Africa and Nigeria re-visited the tourism cooperation agreement signed in 2008. Van Schalkwyk met with Nigeria's Tourism Minister Edem Duke in Pretoria last week as part of an official four-day visit.
"Nigeria is a major growth market for our destination. We saw major growth of 37.5% from Nigeria in 2011,while arrivals from Nigeria grew by 28.7% in the first four months of this year," Van Schalkwyk said.
"So, Nigeria is an extremely important partner of ours, and one of the countries that are critical to our plans for further regional African tourism growth."
Building on bilateral relations with Nigeria
The visit looked to strengthen ties between the two countries, as well as build on the tourism cooperation agreement.
The agreement covers interactions between tourism and travel trade officials, the exchange of tourism research and statistics and human resource development.
Investment, exchange programmes, joint marketing, the establishment of a joint commission, entry formalities and environmental matters between the two countries are also included in the agreement.
"It is our sincere aim to use this visit to continue to forge partnership and bilateral relations between Nigeria and South Africa to boost and grow our tourism sectors even further, to provide employment opportunities for our people, as well as to contribute a significant percentage to the economies of both our nations," Duke said.
"Both Nigeria and South Africa have seen a tremendous partnership and significant engagements in areas such as telecommunications, media, tourism and aviation. This has led to more than US-billion in trade volume between South Africa and Nigeria."
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