South Africa's goal of having 10 million international tourists visiting the country by 2010 is well within reach, says Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.
Speaking at the launch of Tourism Month in the North West, the minister reiterated his confidence in achieving the 10 million tourist target, adding it could even possibly be achieved in 2009.
"There is no doubt that South Africa is one of the most sought after destinations in the world, and the figures continue to prove this again and again.
"In 2007 we really boomed growing faster than the international average, and tourism arrival figures for the first five months of 2008 grew by 7.6 percent," said Mr van Schalkwyk.
The 7.6 percent growth between January and May 2008 translates into almost 4 million more tourists.
Mr van Schalkwyk also highlighted that the French market has experienced the highest growth with 20.5 percent despite South African Airways (SAA) not having any direct flight routes to Paris.
"Europe is experiencing positive growth of 7.4 percent. Italy and the Netherlands grew by 9.1 percent and 9.5 percent respectively while Germany saw good recovery with 5.1 percent growth.
"Arrivals from the Americas have shown consistent annual growth since 2002 and this year there were over 26 000 more visitors arriving from the United States," said Mr van Schalkwyk, adding that this represents as increase of 13.6 percent over the same period in 2007.
An important market to crack is the Chinese and Indian tourist market, said the minister, highlighting China grew at 17.4 percent and India at 16.2 percent.
Mr van Schalkwyk said there has also been a shift in the focus of target markets with the growth of the African travel base.
Air arrivals from Kenya and Nigeria grew by 19.5 percent, while land markets experienced 6.4 percent growth.
"Compared to the figure of less than 600 000 foreign visitors in 1994, the long term growth we have seen is truly something to celebrate," the minister said.
Chief Executive Officer of South African Tourism, Moeketsi Mosola told reporters and dignitaries that the industry needed to pay more attention to reducing carbon emissions.
He said the tourist industry needed to be more environmentally conscious in its business practices as international visitors were increasingly aware of environmental issues.
"There is a growing global trend to support businesses and services that demonstrate environmental responsibility. It makes good business sense, and it is a sound ethical and moral choice, to operate in an environmentally responsible way in this, and in any, industry," the CEO said.
Mr Mosola said South Africa was a long-haul destination for many of its estimated 9 million visitors each year and travel was a "carbon expensive" activity.
"A round trip for one person from the United Kingdom to Johannesburg, for example, created about 1 500kgs of carbon dioxide," the CEO explained. - BuaNews