More than nine-million international tourists visited South Africa last year – an increase of 10.2% compared with 2011.
South Africa’s tourist growth rate in 2012 was more than double the average global tourist growth rate of about 4%, as estimated by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.
President Jacob Zuma, who announced the country’s tourism statistics at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town, on Thursday, said he was delighted with the increase.
“We are extremely happy with our tourist arrival figures for 2012 and our continued tourism growth from all regions. The phenomenal tourism growth is evidence that we are successfully setting ourselves apart in a competitive marketplace and that South Africa’s reputation as a friendly, welcoming, inspiring and unique tourism destination continues to grow,” he said.
Of the overall total, nearly six-million tourists visited from South Africa’s immediate neighbours.
Europe, sharply led by the UK, remained South Africa’s number one source of overseas tourists, with nearly 1.4-million European tourists having visited the country in 2012.
The UK continued to lead the pack, with just over 438 000 tourists having travelled to South Africa last year, an increase of 4.2% on the previous year.
The US was South Africa’s second-biggest overseas tourism market and was growing at a steady rate. Close to 326 640 US tourists visited South Africa, up 13.6% on 2011.
Germany came in third, with 266 333 tourists, having increased its arrivals by 13% on 2011 figures.
China jumped from being South Africa’s eighth-largest overseas market in 2011 to its fourth-largest overseas source market in 2012. The number of visitors from the Asian giant increased by 56% to 132 334 visitors, driven partly by the launch of a direct flight between Beijing and Johannesburg in January 2012.
China, India and Brazil also showed healthy increases, with Brazil becoming a top ten overseas source market for tourist arrivals for the first time.
“Since 2009, arrivals from China have more than tripled, [while] arrivals from [both] Brazil and India have almost doubled,” said Zuma.
However, while more international tourists were coming to South Africa’s shores, they were spending less time in the country.
The average length of stay decreased from 8.5 nights per tourist in 2011 to 7.6 nights in 2012. “This is a global trend that affects all our competitors due to the economic downturn around the world,” Zuma said.
Nonetheless, spending by tourists was up, with foreign tourists having spent a total of R76.4-billion in South Africa last year, up 7.6% from 2011.
The President also referred to the latest Tourism Satellite Account released by Statistics South Africa, which showed that tourism generated 4.5% of the total number of direct jobs in South Africa in 2011. This represented about 600 000 direct jobs in the sector.
“We are very proud of our country, which was once a pariah State, but is now a place that attracts such tourism growth,” Zuma said.