Johannesburg - Former president Nelson Mandela single-handedly put the country on the map, SA Tourism said on Friday.
"Travel anywhere and say you are from South Africa and without a doubt the first word people will utter is 'Mandela'," chief executive Thulani Nzima said.
"This is because he is not only a hero for all South Africans, forever changing the course of our combined history, but also because his incredible leadership ability, compassion, and vision made him a hero for the whole world, earning him iconic status in every country on earth."
He said Mandela opened up South Africa, once a pariah state, to the rest of the world and his name alone attracted millions of tourists to the country.
In 1993, before Mandela became the first democratically elected president, South Africa had 3.5 million international arrivals. In 2012 it welcomed 13.5 million people into the country, said Nzima.
"Nelson Mandela will be sorely missed forever by every South African.
"In the next few days and going forward, we will remain true to the authentic soul of this nation -- a warmly welcoming and hospitable people who now, in great sadness, but with immense gratitude for the life of this great man, welcome people from near and far who arrive to mourn Madiba's loss with us," he said.
Mandela died on Thursday night at his Houghton, Johannesburg, home surrounded by family. He was 95.
*Share your memories of Nelson Mandela with Fin24 users.