Tourism is a catalyst for economic growth

As we celebrate 30 years of democracy, we continue to strive for the greater good and common purpose. The four characteristics of a nation-state are sovereignty, land, population and government.

Sovereignty is the right of a nation or group of people to be self-governing because they are completely independent of any other political entity.

A nation is a large type of social organisation where a collective identity has emerged from a combination of shared features across a given population, such as language, history, ethnicity, culture, territory, or society. The most apparent impact of the nation-state, as compared to its non-national predecessors, is creating a uniform national culture through state policy.

The model of the nation-state implies that its population constitutes a nation, united by a common descent, a common language, and many forms of shared culture. Therefore, nation-building is constructing or structuring a national identity using the power of the state. It aims at the unification of the people within the state so that it remains politically stable and viable in the long run.

The State of the Nation Address of President Cyril Ramaphosa is an annual event and one of the most important events in the parliamentary calendar in which the president is provided an opportunity to speak to the nation on the general state of South Africa, to reflect on a wide range of political, economic and social matters within the domestic and global contexts, to account to the nation on the work of government and to set out government’s programme of action.

One of the key low hanging fruits to address both youth unemployment and the township economy is tourism – which also has the potential to be the biggest foreign currency earner for most countries. It has the potential to provide employment, especially for the youth. It has tangible benefits as most of both the labour and products can be provided by and sourced from the local community, often without the need for public transport.

Treated well and engaged, the same community will protect the entire tourism and hospitality value chain. In the years from 2012 to 2019, South Africa recorded 765 245 tourist arrivals from India versus Australia’s 2 093 000.

If South Africa was able to sustain the initial growth rate in terms of tourist arrivals from India and keep pace with the growth rate that Australia enjoyed, an additional estimated R9.3-billion would have been injected into SA’s economy in seven years between 2012 and 2018. Instead, we have seen a decline in tourist arrivals from India over this period.

Similarly, in the 12 years from 2008 to 2019, South Africa recorded 1 080 695 tourist arrivals from China versus Australia’s 10.4 million, in spite of SA being recently honoured by the readers of the UK’s Telegraph Travel publication, with the prestigious title of Best Country, while its iconic city, Cape Town, claimed the coveted title of Best City in the World.

South Africa has 10 sites (five cultural, four natural and one mixed) inscribed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
(UNESCO) World Heritage list, including the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park in KwaZulu-Natal – a land rich in contrasts and diversity, emerging as an exceptional tourist destination where natural beauty, history and a mix of cultures converge to offer a unique experience.

 The country offers both domestic and international tourists a wide variety of options, among others, the picturesque national landscape and game reserves, diverse cultural heritage and hugely respected wine estates, several national parks, like the expansive Kruger National Park in the north of the country, the coastlines and beaches of KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape provinces and the major cities such as Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.

 A vast majority (76.2%) of tourists arriving in the country were residents of Southern African Development Community countries, 1.9% were from “other” African countries and 23.6% were residents of countries overseas – most of the tourists arriving came from Zimbabwe, topping the list at 31%, followed by Lesotho, Mozambique, eSwatini and Botswana.

In addition, Nigeria was the country of origin for nearly 30% of tourists. Almost 3.5 million travellers passed through the country’s ports of entry in August 2017.

There is absolutely no reason why South Africa can’t attract about 16 million (and 12 million domestic) arrivals annually in the next six years and contribute 10% to the GDP from the solid base of 10.5 million (8 million global) tourists in 2018. The lack of singularity of purpose in tourism and hospitality might be explained in part by the fact that the country has no less than four entities to promote in-bound tourism with very little coordination and cooperation as well as the fact that we have had four ministers of tourism in five years.

  • Prof Mohale is the chancellor of the University of the Free State.

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