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Keynote address by the minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk MP, at the opening ceremnoy of the 2004 Tourism Indaba held at the Durban ICC, on 8 May 2004

SATURDAY, 8 MAY 2004
Indaba 2004: Bigger and Better for SA
If a picture is worth a thousand words then the value of a visit is that it can hold you speechless. This is the experience of South Africa that greets the millions of tourists who travel to our shores, to experience our country, our cultures, and our people.

The real value of tourism goes well beyond concepts like revenue, turnover, and occupancy rates * the greatest value of tourism lies in its power to bring people together and to uplift communities. This unifying force is most visible in the way that tourism draws people across great geographical distances, but tourism crosses more than just physical boundaries, it draws people together within countries like South Africa, across the borders of the mind.

As we gather at Indaba 2004, to showcase the best of South and Southern Africa, we should recall the story of tourism in our region. Let us recall that natural icons like Table Mountain, the Drakensberg, Lookout Hill in Khayelitsha, the bushveld, and God's Window were all here for centuries * yet tourism visitors were the exception not the rule. It was only once our people reached out to one another, and our communities found common ground, that tourism began to flourish.

This Indaba takes place at an important time in South Africa's history. We are celebrating our First Decade of Freedom and it is no accident that our most impressive and exponential tourism growth has also been achieved during the last ten years. Our country has moved from the margins to the mainstream. Our tourism industry is moving into a fresh phase in which South Africa is breaking new ground, setting new trends, and using tourism to uplift our people.

We must take pride in the positive story of Southern African tourism. Ours is a uniquely African story of cooperation and innovation, of tradition and technology, of pride and of potential. With our Southern African neighbours as our partners, we will continue to carve an ever-expanding niche in world tourism.

What we are achieving * consistent growth in tourism - is a direct result of the strong partnership that has been forged between national, provincial and local government, business, labour, and especially our communities.

The performance of tourism over the last five years has demonstrated that our industry has been in safe and skilled hands. I would like today to thank and pay tribute to my predecessor, Minister Valli Moosa. I would also like to thank our DG, Dr Crispian Olver and our department. My appreciation also goes to Rick Menell and the Board of SA Tourism, as well as CEO Cheryl Carolus and her staff for their hard work and dedication. I would also like compliment each and every one of you, as stakeholders, for what has already been accomplished in our industry.

From being a nation on the margins of global tourism, we stand now at the heart of the tourism world. Our country continues to offer unparalleled experiences and almost unbeatable value for money - a potent combination that is reflected in our tourist arrival figures.

Last year was a difficult one for tourism around the world with a 1,2% drop in global travel * yet South Africa achieved a 4,2% increase in overseas arrivals and a 1,3% increase in total foreign arrivals. This success confirms our long-term sustainability as a preferred tourism destination, with arrivals having grown from a mere 640 000 in 1994 to 6,5 million last year.

These are our successes, and they are well-deserved. In a dynamic industry like ours however, it is clear that many challenges remain to be faced.

Tourism is one of our country's five most important economic growth sectors because of its great potential to contribute to sustainable economic growth, job creation, and poverty eradication. Further unlocking this potential will be the focus of our department over the next five years.

One of the most important challenges we must address is the further transformation of our industry. Before 1994, South African tourism was like a house in which only a few could live, with the rest of South Africa left to peer through the windows. It was a cold house, with little warmth and no heart, and its hospitality was flawed. Since 1994 we have opened the house of South African tourism to all.

We will be finalising our Black Economic Empowerment Scorecard by the end of this year which will form the basis of our future empowerment efforts. We will also be concentrating greater resources on increasing the share of tourism received by our six least-visited provinces. For too many decades tourism was another symbol of what was wrong with South Africa, today and in the future tourism represents that which is best about our country.

Our goal must be to increase the number of tourists that visit our country and our region. We must aim to have them stay longer, spend more, travel further, and return repeatedly. Perhaps even more importantly, we must ensure that their experiences are, without exception, unforgettable. In this respect, every South African is a host, every shopkeeper, every taxi driver, every petrol pump attendant is an ambassador. Our visitors take hundreds of thousands of photographs, but their most valuable souvenirs are the memories that they carry in their hearts.

The house of Southern African tourism that we build together should also avoid the danger of being a house of cards. We need solid local foundations, bricks and mortar, to ensure sustainable growth. We have benefited from currency fluctuations and global insecurity, but these are not long-term guarantees as tomorrow they may work against us. Therefore another important theme for our next five years is a focus on local markets.

The reality is that domestic tourism and intra-African tourism present some of our best growth opportunities. All leading tourism nations like France, Italy and Spain, rely on robust domestic tourism to an even greater extent than on international visitors. In the same way that our Tourism Growth Strategy has boosted international arrivals, I am proud to announce that our department is officially launching our Domestic Tourism Growth Strategy at Indaba 2004.

These strategies are positioning our country as a globally competitive player, with an in-depth understanding of individual markets, and a new focus on customer-driven products.

On the international front, we are in the process of completing our Tourism Competitiveness Study which will focus and optimise our international marketing efforts. In the process, I believe we need to target regions like South America, the Near and Far East, and China * areas experiencing rapid economic development.

There are, of course, other issues that continue to dog our industry, like seasonality. Our renewed focus on domestic and local tourism will aim to offset the reduced international demand in off-peak periods, while we will continue to expand our 'Magical Events' strategy. I was delighted to note the appointment of Rick Taylor to drive SA Tourism's MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Events) strategy, and we wish him well.

It is well-known that increasing air access was one of the issues closest to my heart in the Western Cape, and I believe that on the national level it is just as important. We will be collaborating with our colleagues in other departments to prioritise bilateral and multi-lateral negotiations with key markets * to increase the accessibility of our outstanding tourism products, and also to examine enhanced visa access for, and improved services to tourists.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is for all these reasons that I believe Indaba 2004 is correctly centred on the theme: "South Africa: A 10/10 destination." This speaks both of how far we have come and how we approach the next decade together.

As Africa's premier travel and trade show, Indaba has already succeeded by bringing together record numbers of exhibitors and delegates from all corners of the globe. My compliments to everyone involved.

Our region is blessed with both cultural and natural potential. You have enhanced this potential with your products and energy. We are determined to match your efforts with innovative programs and focused marketing. Together we will continue to grow South and Southern Africa as a tourism destination of distinction.

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