South African Tourism is engaging with government to ease visa requirements for New Zealand nationals, while responsible tourism and transformation are areas of focus for the year going forward.

During Tuesday’s webinar hosted by Tourism Update in collaboration with SA Tourism, SA Tourism CEO, Sisa Ntshona, said that while South Africa had seen a growth in tourist arrivals, experiencing a “bumper” season most recently, the country needed to increase the direct contribution of tourism to GDP from roughly 3% to double-digit figures. He added that better geographical spread was also a key target.

Taking questions on the contentious introduction of visa requirements for New Zealand nationals at the end of last year, Ntshona said that SA Tourism was raising this matter within government channels. SA Tourism Chief Marketing Officer, Margie Whitehouse, said SA Tourism was working with the Department of Tourism and Home Affairs to launch an accredited tourism company programme in New Zealand, similar to the one in place in China. She added that the programme in China had resulted in a significant improvement in visa access and was welcomed by the trade.

Ntshona also thanked the trade for its engagement on the issue of cub petting. “I’ve learned a lot from that experience,” he said, reiterating that SA Tourism had taken a stance not to promote cub petting experiences. However, he emphasised that cub petting was not illegal and the role of the trade should therefore not be to vilify, but rather to educate.

“My experience of this sector is that when there is something that they feel passionate about and that also has a commercial connotation, the sector takes control and starts to drive and champion it,” said Ntshona. He said he would like to encourage a country position on cub petting in order to fix not just one incident, but solve the entire problem. He encouraged the sector to lobby associations as well as government departments in the interests of protecting the interests of the future of the industry.

Ntshona said that sustainability and responsible tourism were key focus areas for SA Tourism, emphasising that the sector needed to take into account the changed needs of travellers that are becoming increasingly mindful of sustainability issues.

“2017 is the UNWTO year of sustainability,” said Whitehouse, adding that it was absolutely a focus of SA Tourism. She explained that it was inculcated into SA Tourism’s marketing, while Fair Trade Tourism product was incorporated into media hostings and trade educationals.

Whitehouse said SA Tourism had recently engaged with industry to put together its new market investment framework, which would be implemented from April 1. She said there were 42 markets that SA Tourism needed to operate in to maximise its arrivals.

“Coming through, which will excite everyone, are three areas that we have always had quite a debate about that South African Tourism hasn’t historically been involved in – that is the Nordics, South East Asia and the Middle East,” she said, adding that these would be key focus areas going forward. She said that while plans were still being developed and it hadn’t been determined whether offices would be opened in the regions yet, budget would be invested into these markets

Whitehouse said the new framework would be launched at Indaba. From April 1, SA Tourism will also offer its marketing collateral on an open-source platform. Whitehouse said a lot of it was already available, but would be made more freely available on an open-source platform.

Tourism Update will host future webinars with SA Tourism. Ntshona said he would like to bring one SA Tourism exco member to each of these webinars so that the trade could get an opportunity to interface with more of the SA Tourism team. He added that, through the webinars, he hoped to make SA Tourism accessible to the trade.

To hear the full webinar, click here.