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Africa 'must capitalise on tourism growth'

parkinnFunded by the IDC, the Park Inn Newlands in Cape Town has raised the bar internationally for responsible tourism and innovative development financing.

Africa has everything going for it as a continent that is set to increase its share of expected growth in international tourism and travel, according to Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom.

Unpacking the numbers, he noted that international arrivals in Africa increased to 56-million tourists in 2014, and were expected to grow by between 3% and 5% this year. "This will probably exceed the projected growth in global arrivals, which is between 3% and 4% for 2015."

And this growth comes off a solid foundation. Referring specifically to South Africa, Hanekom pointed out that, "taking the direct and indirect impacts of tourism together, our tourism sector now contributes over 9% of South Africa's gross domestic product and supports over 1.5-million job opportunities countrywide. And it continues to grow."

At the annual Tourism Indaba held in May this year, the minister focused on job creation. "On the African continent, tourism directly and indirectly supports 20.5-million jobs and represents 8.1% of Africa's gross domestic product. In some countries, more than 50% of their gross domestic product comes from tourism."

Tourism is a growth and investment area for the Industrial Development Corporation, which works in the sector through its Tourism strategic business unit.

The Corporation’s focus is on developing high-impact sustainable tourist attractions and diversified product offerings in South Africa to stimulate new demand, as well as on establishing world-class business hotels in fast growing nodes in South Africa and the rest of Africa.

With new discoveries of minerals and natural resources on the continent, there has been increased investment activity, resulting in higher levels of business travel, with most mining companies booking long-term hotel accommodation for their staff. With this in mind, the IDC is aligning its tourism portfolio with investments in sectors such as mining.

Wealth of tourism assets

The tourism sector has been identified as a key space for job creation and poverty alleviation, and South Africa's wealth of wonderful tourism assets - the landscape and biodiversity, wildlife, people and cultural heritage" – have the potential to drive growth in the sector.

Hanekom noted that tourism offerings spread beyond the country’s borders and across the continent. Some of these offerings included the great migration in Tanzania's Serengeti, Kenya's Masai Mara, and sites of the earliest origins of humankind.

"In fact, Africa is the home of the original story: it is the birthplace of humankind. At South Africa's Cradle of Humankind, hominid fossils tell us about our common ancestry. At Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge, evidence of the early tools made by our ancestors show how we became hunters and social beings … Where on Earth can you find sites that tell such a powerful story? Only in Africa," Hanekom said.

"When tourists see ancient fossils that reflect our origins as a species, it makes a spiritual connection deep within them. These fossils provide the evidence that we all come from Africa, that we are all part of one family of humankind, regardless of where we happen to live now.

"This is a connection to the soul of Africa, to the history that brought us together, and the aspirations for the future that bind us together … These are the things that connect tourists to the soul of the people of Africa."

It is important to build the positive brand of Africa as a continent of unparalleled tourism opportunities, and to enhance tourism as a mainstream economic sector – “a sector of hope for Africa and its people”, he added.

The minister said that in order to translate the 10-million arrivals to South Africa into sustainable jobs and livelihoods, a new generation of entrepreneurs is being developed to grow the sector's contribution to inclusive and sustainable growth.

A number of initiatives have been launched to enhance the country's destination offerings, including its national parks, World Heritage Sites and other tourism magnets. “The country has the sites, scenery, beaches and wildlife,” but people are as important to achieve tourism's growth potential, he added.

Tourism skills audit

The minister said: "We are determined to ensure that we have enough people, equipped with the right skills, to offer services of the highest standard to our visitors … We will complete a skills audit for the tourism sector and all components of its value chain this year. This will form the basis of a comprehensive skills development drive that will take us into the next decade of ambitious growth of the tourism sector."

South Africa, he said, was seeking aggressive growth from emerging markets, and would strengthen SA Tourism's hand through new earmarked funding for its domestic and regional African marketing efforts.

Hanekom quoted Nelson Mandela, who opened the first Indaba in a free South Africa with the words: ‘It is in tourism that nature and humanity meet most equitably and profitably … It also provides the resources for the conservation of our natural heritage. Furthermore, tourism is making an important and valuable contribution to the South African economy.'

"Twenty years on, and those words still echo throughout our sector," Hanekom concluded.

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