An analysis of Stats SA data shows that more than 10 million foreign tourists arrived last year, up from 8.9million in 2015.
The 12% increase coincided with the implementation of a number of changes to the immigration regulations introduced in 2014, following recommendations by the inter-ministerial committee on immigration regulation.
Changes include the scrapping of the requirement that would-be visitors apply f or visas in person at South African embassies and have their biometrics recorded.
Now foreigners can apply for visas remotely but are still required to produce an unabridged birth certificate for a minor entering the country with them.
Home Affairs spokesman Thabo Mokgola said 19 amendments to the regulations had been recommended by the inter-ministerial committee but only three had been implemented.
Mokgola said improved tourism numbers could be attributed to the “expansion of front-line operations for ease of visa and permit applications within key travel hubs such as China, India, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates”.
The data showed that the relaxed regulations led to an increase in tourist arrivals. Considerable growth was recorded from the UK, the US and Nigeria. The number of Chinese visitors almost doubled.
The Southern African Development Community provided the bulk of tourists at 7.3million.
Speaking at the tourism Indaba in Durban last week, President Jacob Zuma said tourism contributed 3.1% to GDP at R375-billion in 2015.
Stats SA reported that tourism employed more than 700000 people .
Zuma also announced a new campaign, We Do Tourism, and that black entrepreneurs would be targeted to grow the industry.
“Tourism now supports about 1.5million jobs and we want it to support more than 2.2million by 2026. Our aim is to make South Africa one of the top 20 tourist destinations in the world.”
The CEO of the Federated Hospitality Association of SA , Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, said the increase in international tourists “has to be looked at in the context” of the decrease in domestic tourism between 2013 and 2015 .
“As much as international tourism is increasing, it must be coupled with domestic tourism to have any real effect. At the moment it is only equalising because domestic tourism is down,” Tshivhengwa said.
The weak rand and safety concerns in major cities around the world contributed to the increase in overseas visitors.
“Terror attacks in major cities have also had an impact. People start to look at safe places to which to travel, and one of those is South Africa. We are cheap, have brilliant infrastructure, nice hotels and good tour operators. And we look like a very safe destination.”
South Africa welcomed 10044163 international tourists last year;
73% were from the SADC, 2% from other African countries and 25% from further afield;
71% arrived by road, 28% by air and 1% by sea;
Visitors spent an average of six days in this country;
97% of visitors were on holiday, 2% on business and 1% studying.
Farren Collins – Tiso Black Star Group