South Africa Aims To Double Tourism In 10 Years: It’s Got Some Work To Do

Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

(Left to Right): Altaaf Kazi, GM, Global Public Relations, Communications & Stakeholder Relations,
South African Tourism; Dinky Matakane, Regional Global Manager, Americas, South African Tourism; 
Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO, Tourism Business Council of South Africa; Sthembiso Dlamini,
acting director, South African Tourism; Jerry Mpufane, President:
North America, South Africa Tourism.

Top South Africa tourism officials were in Toronto this week, meeting with tour operators, key sellers and the travel media. With an “audacious goal” of doubling inbound tourism in 10 years, the group came more to listen than to talk, seeking advice on how to inspire more Canadians to visit.

With a young democracy and a struggling economy – unemployment is around 30% and particularly high for youth – President Cyril Ramphosa has put tourism at the top of his government’s agenda.

“We have an amazing story to tell,” says Sthembiso Dlamini, acting director, South African Tourism. “An authentic story, about who we are as a people. But we need help from our partners to tell our story.”

In 2018 South Africa welcomed 10.5 million visitors, the majority from the African continent, 2.6 million from overseas. Of those, 68,000 were Canadians and 376,000 Americans. In 10 years, the goal is to double the overall figure – and triple the annual number of Canadian visitors to 200,000 and U.S. visitors to 1 million.

There’s no doubt South Africa has great appeal as a destination. It offers breathtaking natural diversity, a fascinating blend of cultures and an inspiring history of struggle. But it also faces major obstacles: it’s a long-haul destination with no direct flights from Canada; safety and security is a perennial concern; tourism products are focused on a few iconic areas; and there’s a perception that the product is geared toward luxury travellers.

Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, which represents private sector tourism interests, asked attendees for suggestions on what the nation can do to attract more visitors.

“Why are we not connecting? Are we weak in PR? How do we create that vibe? What is the missing link?” he said. “We need to let people know that they can have great experiences while contributing to our economy and helping to reduce the income inequality gap.”

Dlamini says that along with iconic South African tourism experiences like safaris, the beautiful Garden Route and cosmopolitan Capetown, the nation plans to develop new products aimed at diverse markets – LGBTQ and African-heritage travellers among them – and to create interest in rural and cultural tourism that will help spread the benefits of international visitors to more regions of the country.

The group of South African tourism leaders promised that we’ll be seeing and hearing a lot more from them, in the form of enhanced PR and marketing and “loads of fams.”

Jerry Mpufane, President: North America, South Africa Tourism, says the “listening tour” has been a very valuable exercise.

“There are many parts of South Africa that haven’t been spoken about, that offer worthwhile experiences, rich experiences. We need to tell those stories and inspire travellers. We must stimulate demand, and more flights and new choices will follow.”

Dlamini summed up the importance of the mission: “Fifty-seven million South Africans are looking to tourism to change their situation. That’s our challenge.”

Bruce Parkinson

Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief

An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.