South Africa's tourism industry has great untapped potential. The government s tourist agency plans to boost visitor numbers by over 40% by 2021.
Perched above Johannesburg's tough inner city, Constitution Hill is one of the defining sites of South Africa's anti-apartheid struggle. Once a squalid prison for those deemed enemies of the state, the inmate population included two activists whose names are now gold in the tourist trade--Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
The attraction is one of 100 locations that have been included in "Madiba's Journey", a smartphone app launched by South African Tourism to drive visitor interest in famous and lesser known sites on the hundredth anniversary of the former president's birth. Amid a tough business environment defined by weak growth, political turmoil and a struggling rand, South African Tourism is on an ambitious national journey of its own as it seeks to boost visitor numbers by 5m over the five years to 2021.
With President Cyril Ramaphosa promising pro-business reforms in a bid to boost growth and create jobs, chief executive Sisa Ntshona is urging the government to break down barriers that prevent tourism from realising its full potential.
"We're going through a changing phase in terms of our economy, and government has decided to diversify our revenue streams. We really want to pull the lever of tourism to contribute more to our economy. Currently it contributes about 3% directly and we want to move that to double digits," he says.
Perhaps most urgent among those reforms is a bid to continue dismantling onerous visa regulations which for a time demanded that all visitors with accompanying minors provide proof of their legal parenthood or guardianship. Introduced with the welcome intention of tackling child trafficking, the unnecessary bureaucratic burden dissuaded entire families of tourists from visiting. Despite a bid by the Department of Home Affairs to relax the rules in September, tourism bosses say the government must go further.
Meanwhile, Ntshona expresses relief that the Home Affairs Department is finally ready to launch an e-visa system next year offering online applications, which he says will facilitate travel from Asia and the Middle East.
"We're now putting remedies in place. Our rules can't be more stringent than other countries. It's important that if we want to be serious about tourism, we've got to remove those barriers put in front of us ... We are behind the curve in terms...