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In this era of bitcoin and other unpredictable investment options, smart speculators should consider hedging their bets on a sector that has shown consistent growth since the 2009 global economic crisis: tourism. This is the third-largest export sector in the world and grew by a remarkable 7% in 2017. Tourism is expected to grow at a healthy rate of 4%-5% in 2018, and to continue this trend right up until 2030.

In 2017, according to the UN World Tourism Organisation, international tourist arrivals — in other words, overnight visitors travelling around the world — boomed to a record 1.3-billion people. This global tourism bonanza represents the highest growth in seven years.

Europe experienced 8% growth in international tourist arrivals in 2017, with southern and Mediterranean Europe enjoying a 13% spike despite the Las Ramblas terror attack in Barcelona and the political uncertainty around Catalonia’s bid for independence.

This suggests a resilient and mature tourism sector that is strong enough to withstand what some view as rare or isolated incidents.

Here at home we don’t yet have the final tourism figures for 2017, but the World Tourism Organisation reported that Africa attracted 8% more tourists than in 2016 — above the global average. This was led by a strong 13% surge in tourists for North Africa, which has been plagued by political instability and security issues in recent years and is experiencing a welcome recovery in its tourism sector. In sub-Saharan Africa, arrivals increased 5%, consolidating the huge rebound we saw the previous year.

This is excellent news for SA. Consider this: the World Travel and Tourism Council estimated that in 2016, tourism (including the supply chain and investment) injected R402bn into the South African economy, or 9.3% of GDP, and supported 1.5-million jobs (including in sectors such as transport and agriculture).

This means that even 5% growth in tourism revenues would be hugely significant. Indeed, tourism is one of the continent’s great and largely untapped engines for economic growth, and we need to nurture our tourism sector and treat it with the care it deserves.

It’s clear that the momentum is with us.

We need to capitalise on the seemingly insatiable global appetite for travel and tap into the growing interest in bringing international business events such as major conferences to Africa and to SA in particular.

People around the world are spending more on travel, realising the inherent value of investing in lasting memories and experiences rather than in flavour-of-the-month consumables.

Newly emerging (and prosperous) middle classes in rising economies such as China, Brazil and Russia are increasingly venturing outside their own borders and sampling the world’s tourism treasures.

Tourism is a service industry that has the potential to generate even more wealth and jobs — as the South African government and the National Development Plan 2030 have noted.

Inclusive growth that embraces smaller, black-owned players and tourism entrepreneurs is what we’re aiming at.

That’s why, in 2017 South African Tourism started rolling out our 5-in-5 strategy to attract 5-million more international and domestic tourists to our country by 2021.

Our sights are set on 4-million more foreign tourist arrivals and 1-million more domestic holiday trips.

We’ve reworked our investment model and, with the limited funds that we have to market our destination, we’ve identified where best to "play" for the best potential returns — attracting tourists who will inject as much-needed money into our economy as possible.

 

Our figures for overseas tourists jetting in are sound; what concerns us is the slowdown in tourists coming to SA from our Southern Africa Development Community neighbours, such as Swaziland, Botswana and Lesotho

AAmong these new, emerging markets we’re targeting is the Middle East, where travellers are expressing much interest in coming to SA, especially during their scorching summer months, which fortuitously happens to be our temperate low season.

Everyone wins: tourism and hospitality businesses that are usually quiet during that time will become busier and more sustainable, jobs will be kept and Middle Eastern travellers can enjoy value-for-money rates and authentic South African hospitality that respects and accommodates their cultural and dietary and religious needs.

We’re making brisk strides towards reaching our 5-in-5 target despite obstacles such as the devastating Knysna fires.

We are proud of the resilience and can-do attitude of our tourism industry as a whole, which picks itself up and dusts itself off in the wake of such calamities.

By the end of October 2017, we’d already attracted 8.4-million international tourist arrivals out of our 10.9-million target for the year.

Our figures for overseas tourists jetting in are sound; what concerns us is the slowdown in tourists coming to SA from our Southern Africa Development Community neighbours, such as Swaziland, Botswana and Lesotho.

If economies contract in the region, the knock-on effect reverberates as movement, spending, shopping and trade all slow down as a result.

The good news is that 2.3-million domestic holiday trips were taken between January and the end of October 2017, putting us on course to meet our 2.9-million target for 2017.

Having said that, it is evident that the economic pinch is causing a drop in trips around SA to visit friends and relatives.

This is extremely worrying, because one of our mandates is to show our people that tourism is for everybody and that all South Africans benefit from, and have a role to play in, our tourism industry.

If tourism wins, we all win. This is the thrust of our We Do Tourism movement, which has already been embraced by so many in the government and private sector.

Now, more than ever before, we need to continue embracing the spirit of the We Do Tourism movement.

Looming large and alarming is the Cape Town and Western Cape drought. We can’t ignore the elephant in the room, but Cape Town and the Western Cape are open for business in spite of the drought.

This is a one-in-1,000-year occurrence, but even so there are still many places across the Western Cape that are not as severely affected by the drought, such as the nearby Garden Route and the Cape Overberg.

We appeal to tourists and tourism businesses alike to continue being good responsible tourism citizens and continue being water wise.

The momentum remains with SA’s thriving tourism sector. But since our industry isn’t as mature and hardy as Spain’s, for example, we have to anticipate risks, pre-empt them and deal with them decisively.

Now, as we focus on the Western Cape water crisis, we need to redouble our efforts and work together as an industry, as the government and as a country to ensure that tourism can reach its full potential as a vital engine powering our national economy.

• Ntshona is CEO of South African Tourism.

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