Not withstanding the struggling South African economy, the tourism industry is providing a glimpse of hope as one of the critical sectors that will boost growth and promote job creation. The sector posted positive growth numbers in a year where world markets were depressed. Businesses in this sector should be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities presented by local and international developments.
Howard Arrand, Provincial Head of FNB Business in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) says “the tourism industry contributes an estimated 3% to the national GDP, employing an average of one-in-25 people in South Africa – significantly more than most industries”.
He argues that tourism is the ‘goose that lays the golden egg’, we should be focused on growing the sector exponentially. South Africa has remained a popular luxury destination for many international travellers; especially as it offers a world class experience from shopping to pristine beaches and unforgettable safari’s at the right price. The sector is already a major generator of foreign currency and employment. Over nine million people visit our shores annually, mostly from the UK, Germany, France, Netherlands and the USA.
Arrand’s view is that the quantum growth opportunity sits with KZN. He says that the province boasts one of the most diverse places in the world, in terms of offerings to a tourist. The diversity in cultures, subtropical climate, cuisine, natural landscapes and history is all astounding. He acknowledges the strides that KZN Tourism is making in developing the province into a ‘must-visit’ destination; the province already has invested extensively in Durban’s beachfront promenade.
Arrand explores key areas that could further unlock KZN’s tourism potential:
Increase capacity at King Shaka International Airport
King Shaka International airport probably represents the major key in unlocking KZN’s tourism potential. The airport is capable of handling wide body aircrafts in the form of direct flights from Europe. The majority of international flights into Durban at present cater for domestic travel and transit flights via Dubai, Doha or Johannesburg.
Foreign tourists making the long inter-continental journey, no doubt prefer the direct option and Cape Town is evidence to this. The KZN international airport presently handles just over 4.5 million travellers a year compared with the over 8 million travellers through Cape Town International airport.
We are currently underutilising the airport – attracting daily direct flights from Europe such as the UK, Netherlands and Germany to Durban, supported by a packaging of our attractions should be a priority for the province.
Package the province better
The province has two world heritage sites, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Maloti – Drakensberg Park, warm beaches, over 50 top game reserves and its unique Zulu and Asian cultural heritage. There’s swimming, surfing, hiking, biking, history game lodges and spectacular mountain scenery. Many of our attractions are within close coach distance to King Shaka International Airport. The objective must be to attract the traveller with a logistic friendly, rich and colourful experience which includes relaxation and also caters for the luxury traveller.
Upgrade Hotels & Game lodges
We may have to upgrade many of our hotels and game lodges to attract more of the high end tourists into the province. This will have a huge knock on effect for our smaller hotels and B&B’s as they take on the domestic spill over.
“These are just three key areas which could potentially provide untapped opportunities for entrepreneurs. The question is, do we continue the way we have always done business in the province or do we work together to find innovative ways of driving demand and creating new tourism markets,” concludes Arrand.