South Africa should take its place in the international tourism arena as a destination of choice; not stand cap in hand asking travellers to visit because it's a 'cheap' long-haul destination.

The country's travel industry had scared itself into slashing prices in the past two years because of the depressed global economy compounded by the dread words 'long-haul', when it should have been concentrating on telling business and leisure travellers why their first choice destination ought to be South Africa. The country should be marketing itself as a destination of world-class amenities with pricing benchmarked at a level that reflects this value.

We keep hearing the words 'global competitiveness' in the travel and tourism sector and it's become the Sword of Damocles as to how we present ourselves in the international market. It's an affliction that has affected the whole of the African continent; many people in the industry are labouring under the misapprehension that to get business to SA it has to be destination that only competes on price. We've opened our arms to visitors gracing us with a few dollars and euros, when in reality we have everything to offer the world in terms of business and leisure travel and we should not under-sell our incredible country nor ourselves.

No ordinary country

According to the World Tourism Organisation in 2010 there were some 940million global tourists who spent US$919 billion travelling. Of those tourists, Africa received only 49million and South Africa 8.07million – including those attending the Soccer World Cup. As a country and a continent we're so much bigger than just environmental tourism. Granted, wildlife is one of our USPs, but it's not the only USP. In terms of the leisure market, SA Tourism's slogan of 'leave ordinary behind' is absolutely true in this country; we have no ordinary.

South Africa is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the global growth in luxury, experiential and adventure travel, with many cultures, the most diverse natural terrain and some of the best 5-star hotels in the world offering unquestionable value for their price point. Table Mountain is a UNESCO-registered World Heritage Site, and it happens to be right in the middle of Cape Town, which was voted TripAdvisor's 2012 destination of the year. It's also home to two of the world's top 25 trendy hotels according to TripAdvisor; one of them being the Protea Hotel Fire & Ice! Cape Town. Table Mountain has also just been named as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. We have such incredible natural beauty within our borders."

Business tourism

One of the biggest potential growth areas is business tourism, including the MICE market. SA President Jacob Zuma said recently that tourism contributed 7.7% of South Africa's GDP, but it was one area that showed enormous potential for growth. He said SA was working towards attracting 15million tourists per year by 2020, with a projected spend of around R500billion. This would also result in the creation of some 325 000 new jobs in the sector by the end of the decade.

Much of that growth will materialise from business and MICE travel. South Africa has world-class infrastructure and its language of business is English. We present better overall value than most countries and the conference market is prepared to pay top dollar for this. There should be nothing holding us back from seeing marked growth in these sectors. South African hoteliers and other trade partners need to expand their horizons from traditional inbound feeder markets.

We're seeing growth in the South American market – more specifically Brazil and Argentina – and an increasing number of Eastern Europeans visiting South Africa. Asian markets are also showing remarkable development of their appetite for South Africa; India and China are the most notable growth points. These are, of course, all dependent on flight availability, but in January SAA introduced three direct flights per week between China and South Africa, most of which have been fully booked.

At the time the government said that multiple-entry visa concessions had already been granted to more than 130 Chinese investors. South Africa has also won the bid to host this year's Travel Agents Federation of India Convention, which attracts some 1,000 delegates, excluding accompanying parties. The psychological barrier created by years of marketing SA as a destination of price has to be torn down if the country is to show significant inbound growth in the mid-term.

South Africa has proved itself time and time again on the world travel stage. We hosted a fantastic World Cup in 2010, and COP17 in December was an unmitigated success. Why should we stand back for any other countries when we have all the ingredients for success right in front of us?

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