The annual National Lilizela Tourism Awards were held on Saturday, November 17, where tourism players who have served the country’s tourism sector over the past year par excellence, were celebrated and awarded.

At this sixth edition, hosted by SA Tourism at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, 800 guests from the government, the tourism industry, and the media, gathered to support and honour the finalists and winners.

Over 500 finalists, selected nationwide from more than 1 365 entries, were present – those who had won the provincial round and were named to compete in the national finals.

The categories across which they were judged were:

  • Service Excellence Awards Winner
  • MESE Category Winner
  • Tourist Guide Category Winner
  • Visitor Experience Category Winner
  • Tour Operator Category Winner
  • Sustainable Development – Universal Accessibility Winner
  • ETEYA Award

A new category was introduced this year: the ‘I Do Tourism Award’, which looked to recognise people or businesses who were not necessarily in the tourism sector but had a passion for tourism and had played a notable role in tourism.

A list of all the categories and sub-categories, as well as the winners, can be found here.

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom, together with Deputy Minister of Tourism, Elizabeth Thabete, handed out the awards to each of the winners, who also received individual art pieces from local artists.

In his welcome speech, Hanekom spoke about the diverse tourism offering that South Africa brings to the global market. “A variety of wildlife and nature-based experiences to satisfy every desire and every pocket; just about every adventure experience you can possibly imagine; a range of heritage and cultural experiences, the best of food and wine, song, dance, theatre, hiking and cycling trails, and breath-taking scenic beauty wherever you go,” highlighting that it was the local tourism industry “who makes it possible for the tourist to experience all of this, and to feel at home and welcomed and pampered”.

He further spoke about the progress made, challenges faced, and opportunities presented during the course of the year, to break down barriers to tourism and grow the industry. “We saw the dramatic increase in tourist numbers following the visa waivers for countries such as Angola and Russia. But we have also felt the negative effect of the ill-considered imposition of visa requirements on visitors from New Zealand. The opportunities for new, small businesses to gain a foothold in this growing sector are huge. Opportunities for our hidden gems to expose their products have been created at events such as Africa’s Travel Indaba, Meetings Africa and various international trade and travel shows.”

The Minister further spoke about the amendments to the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA) regulations; the drive for increased SME participation through its Tourism Incentive Programme and the Tourism Transformation Fund; and the transition of travel from being destination-driven to experiential-based.

CEO of SA Tourism, Sisa Ntshona, concluded that “a thriving South African tourism sector contributes to the economy, to employment, to the culture, the quality of life and the prosperity of our beautiful country. Tonight we were reminded of the diversity South Africa has and how privileged we are to have such amazing experiences to offer global visitors.”