April 24th, 2012
New York - South African tourism minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk on Monday confirmed that tourism to South Africa was on the up, despite the current global economic climate.
Van Schalkwyk referenced statistics on increased visitors, even taking into account a 7% drop in arrivals from the top arrivals market of the United Kingdom. Traveller numbers from China and India saw massive growth, and visitors from around Africa also showed sharp gains, especially from Tanzania and Nigeria.
The minister mentioned the USA specifically, and gushed over the now direct SAA flights between Johannesburg and New York, claiming this facilitated increases in visitor numbers. However, van Schalkwyk was unable to provide a decent plan to deal with recent negative press about South Africa.
A New York-based journalist from the Sunday Times asked if the department had counter-points to recent news events which have been highlighted about South Africa in American media, including a recent rape video, shark attack and a New York Times article calling Cape Town a racially divided city.
The minister said that bad things happen in every country, but that people vote with their feet, and a significant portion of passengers arriving in South Africa are returning. As these incidents have all happened within the last month, this is unlikely to truly combat US perception that South Africa is a dangerous place. And although tourism numbers remain on the rise, dropping South Africa's perceived danger label would obviously improve these stats further.
The ministry also has plans to diversify tourist options in South Africa, and will focus on broadening South Africa's appeal from its current notoriety as a "safari" destination. These will include such projects as rural, medical and religious tourism, and add a special focus to the National Conventions Bureau - a body dedicated to attracting events, such as the recent Cop 17, to South African shores.