SA, which is looking to woo 15-million international tourists by 2020, was banking on boosting visitor numbers through attracting conference or business event travellers, Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said yesterday. The Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism had entered into an agreement to "strengthen and prioritise" the issuance of visas in favour of certain tourism markets, the minister said. He was speaking at the annual Southern African Association for the Conference Industry conference. Over the next five years, SA had already secured more than 200 international conferences, which are estimated to attract 300000 delegates and provide a R1,6bn boost for the economy. Last year, about 10000 association meetings rotated worldwide, 6500 of those were regional meetings and 3500 international associations.
Africa hosted only 304 meetings, mostly international association meetings and SA hosted only 86, Mr van Schalkwyk said. "Through confidently staging major events like the 2010 Soccer World Cup and the United Nations' COP 17 Climate Change Conference, SA has proven its credentials to host events of any magnitude and is well placed to play host to any local or international event," he said. "It is important to unlock the benefits of aviation on our continent, create space for the new-model low-cost airlines, advance competition in the skies, and establish Johannesburg as one of the hubs on the continent as well as the south-south corridor," Mr van Schalkwyk said. He said a number of government departments were busy drafting SA's first Africa aviation strategy. According to international trends, 35%-40% of business travellers to any destination are convention delegates.
But the tourism department was looking to aggressively grow this figure, Mr van Schalkwyk said. SA officially launched the National Convention Bureau in February to help the country play "catch up" in the lucrative conference hosting stakes and assist cities in securing bids for events in an integrated way. The department is hoping to double the contribution of business events to the tourism yield. South African Tourism CEO Thulani Nzima told the conference that after six months of "tireless strategising" the organisation was committed to growing the total number of delegates attending business events in SA from an estimated 145600 delegates this year to 210000 by 2017. The first-quarter tourist arrivals to SA were impressive considering the economic conditions throughout the world, Mr van Schalkwyk said a few weeks ago. Tourist arrivals to SA increased 10,5% overall in the first quarter. A total of 2267807 tourists arrived in January, February and March. Overseas arrivals grew 17,8% - Business Day