Be warm and welcoming to tourists, SA urged

Tolene van der Merwe. (Pic: Carin Smith, Fin24)
Tolene van der Merwe. (Pic: Carin Smith, Fin24)

London – It is very important that South Africans are warm, welcoming and friendly to tourists, because the more time these tourists spend in SA, the more money they will spend and the better it will be for the economy, according to Tolene van der Merwe, head of SA Tourism’s UK and Ireland hub.

She told Fin24 ahead of the World Travel Market (WTM) London that her key message for the South African public is that tourism is very important for the economy. It is one of the fastest growing industries in the world.

The United Kingdom (UK) is the biggest tourism source market for SA. One of the big focus points for the UK and Ireland hub of SA Tourism (SAT) is, therefore, to showcase new and exciting products to the UK market.

Van der Merwe said 53% of tourists from the UK that visit SA are repeat visitors and they want to experience something new each time.

That is one of the reasons why SAT is showcasing 33 small and medium enterprises (SMes) at WTM London. The focus is further to provide exposure to areas other than just the ones like the Western Cape and the Kruger National Park, which first time visitors usually have as priority.

Growth in UK tourists

“We have seen growth in UK tourists interested in visiting Gauteng, the Eastern Cape as well as increasingly to the Northern Cape, which is a real hidden gem,” said Van der Merwe.

“Tour operators are surprised at what more SA has to offer apart from the same regions always being ‘sold’ to international tourists.”

SAT’s research shows that British travellers like to tick things off their travel wish list – for instance that they have done Table Mountain, done the Blyde River Canyon and so forth.

They look for affordability. In this regard the expensive direct long haul flights between the UK and Cape Town offer a challenge. Yet, if UK tourists are willing to fly indirectly, they can get better deals, says Van der Merwe.


The strength of the pound to the rand is another plus for UK tourists wanting to visit SA. As for targeting younger travellers, Van der Merwe said this market segment find SA to be one of the most 'instagrammable' countries.

“SA is a destination for from young people taking a gap year up to retirees,” said Van der Merwe.

She said SA can certainly also gain from tapping into the increase in solo travel. On the other hand, concern about personal safety and security is one of the challenges in the promotion of SA in the UK.

“We showcase how incredible SA is and the large number of satisfied tourists returning to SA each year. If they did not feel safe, they would not have visited SA again,” explained Van der Merwe.

* Fin24 is a guest of SA Tourism at WTM London.

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