Mpumalanga Tourism MEC Pat Ngomane has called on the province's residents to take part in tourism activities.
“Tourism is not only about travel and leisure, but also about how it changes the lives of our people, by creating the much-needed jobs,” he said this week.
He noted that the tourism economy was an important aspect in the sustainability and livelihood of rural areas in the province. He suggested that residents should "unearth the tourism opportunities that can be exploited in our townships and rural areas", in order to improve socioeconomic conditions.
“The fact that Mpumalanga is largely a rural province, and that poverty and unemployment in South Africa is mainly dominant in the rural areas, [means] the tourism sector, therefore, becomes a solution to this challenge. To exploit this opportunity, we will respond by developing the Rural Tourism Plan for our province.
Ngomane said tourism attractions in townships and rural areas offered a unique experience, which could not be found in urban areas.
“It is these rare product offerings and many others that attract people from outside our borders to our province,” he said.
Ngomane revealed that there had been a staggering increase in international visits in the province in the past year.
“About 1.6-million international tourists visited the Mpumalanga province in 2018 . . . an increase . . . on the 1.5-million international tourists that visited the province in 2017. This increase was from all source markets, with the exception of Mozambique,” he pointed out.
The MEC further noted that the number of domestic trips had also increased to 2.9-million in 2018, up from 2.2-million in 2017.
“International and domestic tourists spent R13.1-billion in the past year and this has contributed significantly to the provincial economy," he said.
The MEC said the purpose of Tourism Month was to encourage South Africans to explore, know and enjoy their country.
“It would be a shame if people from outside South Africa become the ones who know our province better than our own people. If you do not know your own province, you are not patriotic.
“Patriotism is all about loving and knowing one’s province and country. It is all about being in the forefront, when it comes to promoting what your province has to offer to visitors. We should all be selfless ambassadors of our province” said Ngomane.
As part of the line-up for this year’s Tourism Month activities, Ngomane said that the provincial tourism department would, once again, open the gates of the provincial nature reserves to South Africans for free, from September 9 to 15.