This is an excerpt from James Vos’s speech at the opening of the Knysna Oyster Festival on July 6, 2017.
Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on Knysna.
These fires have caused tremendous damage, destruction and loss of life. It's far too easy to lose hope in life and the world. But that was not an option for the people of Knysna.
Considering everything that has happened to this town and its people, truly your courage and ability for reinvention are inspiring and must be commended.
Knysna is heavily dependent on tourism, and residents would be dealt an additional blow if their tourism economy were to decline. Therefore, I’m thrilled by the response from the tourism industry together with the authorities that their town remains “open for business”.
The likelihood of consumers visiting a destination is predicated on their perception of it. Therefore, a healthy tourist economy cannot thrive and grow unless prospective tourists perceive the locations as a safe and functioning place to visit.
On this subject, I’m happy to report that the Western Cape Government has pledged financial assistance and capacity building programmes, and furthermore Wesgro has provided over R100 000 to sponsor and promote the Knysna Oyster Festival and Knysna as an ultimate place to visit.
Despite these tragic fires, this region remains one of the Cape’s most beautiful destinations and still has a lot to offer, and we’re on a mission to remind tourists and investors of that.
South Africa and the Western Cape are amongst the world’s leading tourism destinations, on the back of a new, focused approach to growing tourism, and a surge in private sector investment in hospitality infrastructure.
Coming back to Knysna, every cent spent here will contribute to a sustainable livelihood for suppliers all the way down the tourism value chain and will help put food on the tables of Knysna’s most vulnerable residents and help rebuild this amazing tourism destination.
It’s also worth mentioning that the recent declaration of the Garden Route as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve will also contribute significantly to this region in terms of conservation and sustainable practices, while contributing to the Green economy.
Speaking about the economy, I am happy to report that our airlift strategy is generating fantastic results with many more direct flights to our region.
In a short time, we have secured six new routes and eight expansions, resulting in over half a million more two-way direct seats coming into Cape Town. Since July last year, this additional capacity has generated roughly R3 billion in additional tourism spend for the Western Cape.
Last year, for the first time, Cape Town International Airport had 10 million passengers in a calendar year. It also remains Africa's most award-winning airport.
Through improved air access, we are also securing more business tourism. The Western Cape has secured 33 conferences for the 2016/17 financial year that will contribute an estimated economic contribution in excess of R434 million.
To build on this momentum, the provincial government is working on a Delegate Boosting and Conversion Programme aimed at increasing delegate attendance and length of stay.
Conferences held over the past five years contributed more than R1.5 billion, proving the importance of this sector for our provincial economy.
Many people outside the industry believe tourism professionals are on a permanent vacation and others complain that tourists clog up services at the expense of locals. The numbers, however, show beyond doubt that the tourism sector is necessary for economic growth.
South Africa's volatile political and economic situation - and subsequent credit rating downgrade - is not expected to have a significant impact on Western Cape tourism numbers. However, our officials are mitigating any possible effects and risks.
The Western Cape government will invest in new tourism attractions and address congestion at existing popular attractions in the coming months to attract more visitors.
Firstly, it requires us to invest in infrastructure at the attractions themselves to match the capacity of tourists coming into the country and upgrading infrastructure so that attractions are not negatively affected by congestion.
Secondly, it means investing in new attractions and extending our offering across the region, thereby encouraging repeat visitors to explore new areas.
The third investment would be developing cycle tourism - a market that is growing internationally. We've already seen some exciting progress in this regard, and there are some additional routes being planned.
That's not all, as there are many other exciting projects we're working on.
The upgrading of the Cape Town International Airport will facilitate unrestricted air access into the region and enable growth of air traffic, stimulating tourism and economic activity.
Environmental authorisation has been granted for this project and if all approvals are received, construction is estimated to begin mid-2018.
The most noticeable upgrade will be a new and realigned runway amounting to R3.18 billion. New terminal buildings, boarding gates, aircraft parking stands, taxiways and service roads will also be built.
The re-aligned primary runway, Runway 18-36, will be 3 500 meters in length and will be built to international specifications, allowing larger aircraft like A380s and other Code F aircraft to land at the airport.
This runway project is not only about the growth of the airport; it's about unlocking the growth potential of the entire Western Cape.
The construction of a dedicated cruise terminal at the V&A Waterfront is coupled with some additional exciting projects in the vicinity.
The Western Cape is poised to become a cruise tourism hotspot in South Africa and the construction of dedicated cruise liner infrastructure will have vast benefits for regional job creation and economic development.
Projects such as these highlights the critical role that tourism plays in reinventing cities and towns.