Cape Town - South Africa has to lead by example and show other African countries that there is nothing to fear regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) tourism, Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom said on Thursday.
He admitted that not all African countries hold similar attitudes towards the LGBT community as SA does.
"There is a huge economic value in LGBT tourism and it can help our country to get more visitors to come and stay here and spend money in our restaurants and accommodation. We have to change attitudes and break down stereotypes," he emphasised.
Hanekom was a keynote speaker at the annual global convention of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) taking place in Cape Town this week. It is the first time the event takes place in South Africa and on the African continent.
According to Hanekom the IGLTA convention will help to send the message to the rest of the world that SA is a country which welcomes LGBT travellers.
As keynote speaker at the opening of the IGLTA convention, taking place at the Mount Nelson Hotel, he said it is the first time the convention - which drew more than 300 delegates in the travel and tourism industry - takes place, not only in South Africa, but in Africa.
"We are proud to have you help is write about the success of tourism in SA. We hope you will help us promote our attractions," said Hanekom. "SA used to be a repressive society, but now we recognise each human being no matter gender, race, religion or sexual orientation."
He pointed out that SA was the first country in the world to include the right of sexual orientation in the Constitution - despite lots of opposition at the time.
"SA is still on a journey and there is still a long way to go. I cannot guarantee you will be accepted everywhere in SA and that you will not experience racism or homophobia, but you will find warmth unlike anywhere else in the world," he told delegates.
LGBT tourists to SA can be a light to millions of their counterparts in the country so that they can know they are not alone and can live their lives normally, according to Hanekom.
"Let us celebrate our belonging to human kind and don't worry if you are not gay, you are also welcome in SA," he concluded. "It is very important for people coming to SA - whether for business or leisure - to feel comfortable to be themselves."
Mmatsatsi Ramawela, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA) also said not many countries to the north of SA are friendly to the LGBT community.
"At the same time, Africa needs tourism to grow," she said.
At this year's convention IGLTA honoured Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu with the 2016 Chair Award "for making the world more welcoming for the LGBT community". Tutu was not well enough to accept it in person and his son Trevor accepted it on his behalf.
In a video clip of various past statements of Tutu, he was heard saying that one cannot claim society to be free as long as some people are still attacked. Tutu also said in the past that he cannot worship a homophobic god.