Interview: Marthinus van Schalkwyk

How did hosting the 2010 World Cup affect the tourist industry in South Africa?

MARTHINUS VAN SCHALKWYK: The World Cup helped to brand the country as a tourism destination considerably. Some 309,554 foreign tourists arrived with the primary purpose of attending the World Cup during its four-week duration, contributing an incremental tourism revenue of R3.6bn ($495.72m) during that period. Almost 90% of those surveyed said they would consider revisiting South Africa and 96% said they would recommend the country to their friends and relatives. Thus the indirect, longer-term impact has been significant.

Some 32bn people around the world watched the matches and associated festivities, and the total awareness of South Africa as a leisure destination increased by 9% following the event. More than a third of tourists surveyed reported the World Cup was their first source of awareness about the country, while another survey found the intention to visit South Africa in the short term increased by 35% after the tournament.

What can be done to make it easier for tourists to come to South Africa?

VAN SCHALKWYK: The country faces issues related to the cost of plane tickets and perceptions concerning value for money. Other obstacles include the possible difficulty of obtaining visas quickly, especially for groups from emerging markets like China, India and other African countries. Electronic visas will be able to deal most effectively with this barrier, as applications are less costly, more convenient and generally more efficient. Concerns about security of information sharing are legitimate, but we believe entry procedures could be streamlined without compromising security.

How can seasonality and greater geographic visitor distribution be addressed?

VAN SCHALKWYK: Building a strong domestic tourism market is critical for sustainability and addressing both seasonality and geographic spread. Therefore, the focus of the industry leading to Vision 2020 will be to entrench a culture of travel among South Africans. This will be done through affordable holiday packages and the marketing of an expanded range of products and services to those outside the traditional tourist markets.

In response to the government’s broader objective of rural development, we are also developing a rural tourism strategy. This plan looks to identify ways that rural areas could be incorporated into the mainstream tourism economy. Many of South Africa’s key attractions are in rural areas, including six of its eight World Heritage sites. It is important to further develop and promote these areas in support of job creation.

In which niche tourism segments do you see strong growth potential moving forward?

VAN SCHALKWYK: A number of initiatives are now in place within the National Tourism Sector Strategy, where niche tourism development plays an important role in positioning South Africa to become a globally competitive destination. We are currently working on a few select niche tourism products, including heritage, cultural and “avitourism” (nature tourism specifically focused on bird life). Research studies towards further developing educational tourism and universal accessibility are also currently under way.

Trends in tourism over the past decade have increasingly shown that travellers are seeking more authentic and memorable experiences through meaningful interaction with local people and cultures. A report from 2009 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development demonstrates that over 50% of tourist activity in Europe is driven by cultural heritage, while the UN World Tourism Organisation estimated that cultural tourism accounts for 40% of all international travel. Tourism in South Africa currently focuses largely on safari-type experiences and scenic natural environments. However, the country also has significant potential for cultural tourism, as it is endowed with a diverse range of heritage and cultural products.