Tourists want to see SA’s ‘soul’

2015-04-12 15:00

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Visitors to our shores want more than beach and bush. We need to sell the things that make us South Africans, says tourism minister

South Africa may be blessed with beautiful beaches, stunning mountain ranges and an abundance of wildlife, but there is a need to sell “the soul” of our country, according to Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom.

Hanekom was speaking at the launch of a new mobile phone app designed to curate the experiences of tourists visiting sites and attractions associated with the country’s first democratic president, Nelson Mandela.

“South Africa is an easy sell,” he told City Press.

“But we need to sell the soul of our country, not just the beautiful landscapes and beaches. The tourist of today wants more than beach and bush.

“Tourists may want to spend a day on the beach, but they want to sample the culture too, and we need to create avenues for that to happen,” he added.

Pressed by City Press as to what constitutes the soul of South Africa, Hanekom explained: “The soul of a country is the story of the country and the history of the country, the things that make us South Africans.

“In South Africa, it is a story of hardship, it is a story of injustice for many people, but it’s also a story of hope in the face of despair and it is a story of a proud struggle against what is wrong.”

The South African tourism industry is less than a month away from the biggest annual date on its calendar, the Tourism Indaba, which takes place between May 9 and 11 this year at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre (ICC) in Durban.

Indaba is Africa’s biggest team of travel and tourism exhibitors who come each year to meet with the world’s premier tourism buyers. It’s uniquely African, and a valuable business platform for the industry to market itself, sell its products and offerings, and continue the strong upward growth trend in tourist arrivals.

The Tourism Indaba in 2014 hosted more than 10?000 visitors and 2?000 tourism buyers from around the world, with 1?600 exhibitors from 25 countries across the African continent.

In total, 19?399 meetings were facilitated between buyers and sellers at last year’s indaba and already over 900 meetings have been set up ahead of the 2015 event.

Hanekom noted that the Tourism Indaba was an “incredibly important” platform for tourism product owners in South Africa to market their products to the rest of the world.

“More and more people are getting their tourism information via the internet, but tour operators still play a very important role in marketing South Africa,” he highlighted. “You have to get the tour operators to want to sell your product and you do that by exposing them to your product.”

He added that the Tourism Indaba was a Pan-African event, which was also important.

One in 20 jobs in sub-Saharan Africa are in the travel and tourism sectors, with an estimated 300?000 jobs being added per year.

In 2012, $36?billion (R425.6?billion) in revenue was spent on the African continent in the tourism sector, which equates to 2.8% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP.

In South Africa, 14.3 million nonresident tourists visited the country in 2013, bringing in revenue of R94.2?billion.

Hanekom said that the talking points at the 2015 edition of the Tourism Indaba would likely be crime, safety, Ebola and visa regulations.

“One of the talking points will be: is South Africa a safe place to visit?” said Hanekom.

“It will be up to us to dispel the myths. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a crime problem, of course we do, but the number of incidents involving tourists in South Africa are extremely low by any international comparison,” he added.

Hanekom said there was also a need to dispel myths about Ebola as the outbreak of the disease had negatively impacted South African tourism.

“We need to break down these perceptions that if there is Ebola in west Africa, you are at risk in South Africa,” he said. “The other big talking point is the current visa regulations and birth certificate requirements.

“The president announced in the state of the nation address that the visa regulations would be reviewed, but that review is not a simple thing.

“We need to find the right balance between economic interests and national security interests in the next few months,” he explained.

Speaking about the new Nelson Mandela tourism app, Hanekom said technology could be used to make a tourism experience come to life.

“Tourists really do have the world at their fingertips,” said Hanekom.

“The technologies are here, we must get the best out of them.

“Nowadays, everyone is walking around with the technology in their pocket in the form of smartphones. I think this app is just the beginning of far greater applications in our tourist experience in South Africa,” he concluded.

This is the first in a series of five written by City Press and sponsored by SA Tourism

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