04 March 2007

worth its weight in gold... and then some...

SA tourism overtakes gold in foreign exchange
South Africa has beaten all previous tourism records - attracting more than six million visitors in the first nine months of last year.

The latest statistics, covering the period from January to September 2006, show a 14 percent increase in tourism compared to the same time in 2005.

Opening a conference on business tourism in Johannesburg on Tuesday, Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said: "We are well on our way to surpassing the annual record set in 2006."

The largest source of tourism growth came from Africa, with an 18 percent increase, but the overall growth was also swelled by an increase of about 10 percent more visitors from North America. "Although it was off a low base, we saw a massive 42 percent increase in visitors from the Russian Federation, 24 percent more visitors from Hungary and 17 percent more visitors from Finland," Van Schalkwyk said.

He noted that the tourism industry now generated more foreign exchange than gold, and was one of the biggest contributors to the sustained economic growth spurt that started in 1999.

From Asia there had been a 4,5 percent increase in visitors - which included a 17,5 percent increase in Indian tourists and "excellent growth" from Japan, Thailand and Singapore.

However, a disappointment was the decrease in visitors from China, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Van Schalkwyk said there were opportunities to expand the more lucrative "business tourism" sector from the present figure of five percent by doubling the number of business tourists over the next three years.

Now this is all despite safety concerns...

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