Tourism in South Africa is anticipating strong growth in 2016 after lifting some strict new visa rules that reduced the number of arrivals in the previous year, Minister Derek Hanekom said on Tuesday.
South Africa last year loosened some of the visa rules it introduced in October 2014, dropping a requirement for visitors to apply for visas in person at South African embassies, following a backlash from tour operators and tourists.
“In January, over one million tourists arrived in South Africa, 15 percent more than in January last year,” Hanekom told parliament.
“February brought an incredible 18 percent increase,” Hanekom said, adding that while the Chinese market was showing signs of recovery, obtaining visas in India still took too long.
South Africa’s tourism sector is considered as one of the key drivers of employment and economic growth in Africa’s most industrialized economy.
Sandy white coastlines, rolling vineyards and attractions like Kruger National Park, Table Mountain and Robben Island, where anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela spent nearly two decades in jail, attract visitors from all over the world.
According to the National Treasury, tourism’s direct contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) was 103.6 billion rand ($7.15 billion) in 2013, about 2.9 percent of GDP, while directly employing 655,609 people or 4.4 percent of total employment.
“Tourism is recovering rapidly from last year’s decline. 2016 promises to be a year of strong growth for tourism in South Africa,” Hanekom said.