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Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism

Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk speaks about new developments in the tourism sector that will see the country through to its 2010 hosting of the soccer World Cup and beyond.

How important is South Africa’s tourism sector to the overall economy?

Tourism is the fastest growing sector of our economy. It already contributes just over 7 percent of the GDP and we really haven’t started to scratch the surface yet. Since 1994, growth has really been forthcoming.

A few years ago, the magical number was seven million tourists and everybody was asking if we would ever be able to achieve that number. Well, we are going to achieve it this year, and our target for 2010 is ten million visitors per year.

The sector has also taken the initiative with the Tourism Black Economic Empowerment Charter, which aims to ensure that tourism benefits all South African communities. Protea Hotels, the largest hotel group in Africa, is now 53 percent black-owned. What other effects will this have?

We have just agreed on the charter in the industry and I believe we have clearly demonstrated that it isn’t a government program that has been forced on people. It is something that everybody from the small businesses to the large hotel and tourism groups agrees on and is very enthusiastic about. We have been very careful to not make ownership the only requirement, but also skills development, social investments and so on. The charter will definitely expand the industry and add to its growth.

South Africa will host the 2010 soccer World Cup, the world’s most widely watched sporting event. What preparations are being made?

A large part of our marketing is already focused on the 2006 German World Cup, which we will use as a launching pad for our World Cup. People who watch that on television will know that next time around the event will be held in South Africa.

When people come here in 2010 they will be coming to watch soccer matches, but they will also do so to have an African experience. People will be thinking about our national parks and wildlife, as well as the diversity of South Africa as a nation and our cultural tourism, so all of that will be part of the package. We want to make sure that 2010 is not a once off. If we spend money to develop markets, such as the Spanish-speaking soccer countries, we want them to be sustainable markets and for people to say they are going to come back again. One of the programs we are integrating into our plan in the build-up to 2010 is to develop the provinces that are least visited tourism-wise. For example, Northern Cape is a fantastic destination for adventure tourism, so we will be developing regions like that. Also, we are fast-tracking a program for a single visa so that visitors can literally experience three or four countries in a day through the national parks. We plan to have this in place on an experimental basis by 2008.