Tourism is where the money is at, says industry body boss

Meetings Africa, hosts of Africa’s biggest business tourism lekgotla, launched the 15th annual meeting at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange on Friday morning with panelists discussing ways in which tourism can be used as a gateway to further investment in SA’s tourism industry and the rest of the continent.

In the lead up to Meetings Africa’s three-day conference, set to take place at the Sandton Convention Centre from 24 - 26 February, thousands of delegates from across the globe will assemble as team South Africa tries to attract corporates to host their business events in South Africa.

This is largely in attempt to expand the South African tourism industry in order to expand the economy and unlock job opportunities.

Panelists discussed possible avenues that could unleash the full potential of the tourism industry, allowing it to grow the country’s GDP.   

Not just leisure

Among the points raised by the panelists was that tourism should not only be seen for leisure purposes, but recognised for its business potential, said CEO of SA Tourism Sisa Ntshona.

"Looking at the impact of what this tourism sector can do, beyond what has been seen… if you look at the spend of a business event…in tourism, it is up to three times more.

"That is where the money is at, and we want to make sure that we bring as many people in so that we can profile South Africa and the continent as an ideal destination," he said.

Ntshona also noted that communication and access regarding South Africa’s tourism destinations needed to be prioritised in order to attract in the eyes of corporates for further investments.

Low-hanging fruit

"Tourism is a gateway to business. People that come here for business events, they get to see and feel the country which can lead to further investment down the line," he said.

According to economist Xhanti Payi, the key thing needed to expand the tourism sector is improved infrastructure, and not undermine the value of a working transport system, which could also increase GDP.

In term of job creation in the sector, "the tourism industry… is one of the lower hanging fruits for job creation in the country and the results would be the expanded economy," even amid worries of market concentration, said CEO of the Black Business Council, Kganki Matabane.

Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, who opened the media briefing, said attracting more international visitors into the country is key to promoting South Africa. It is for this reason that the tourism department has been working closely with Home Affairs to relax travel laws.

"We are working side by side, hand in hand to ensure that we are able to have many of our tourists coming in," Kubayi-Ngubane said. 

"We have made sure that in terms of work, in addition to lowering the turnaround times for the visa applications, we have ensured that we have an electronic visa application system that Home Affairs is currently piloting," added the minister.

"We do not deserve tourists, we compete for them," she reminded delegates. 

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