South Africa's Tourism Industry

Since the end of apartheid, visitors have increasingly picked South Africa as a travel destination. Tourism is now one of the country's fastest growing sectors. In addition to the nation's rich history and cultural heritage, the vast and diverse landscape of South Africa attracts travellers from around the world. Nature and wildlife tourism, as well as adventure and sport tourism remain significant draws for tourists. The country is emerging as a leader and pioneer in sustainable and responsible tourism with eco-friendly tour operators and attractions. South Africa's cities, including Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, with world-class shopping, dining and entertainment are also significant draws for families and luxury travellers.

South Africa Tourism Statistics

According to Euromonitor International and Statistics South Africa (StatsSA), South Africa ranked 33rd among the most visited countries in the world in 2010. Tourism in South Africa directly contributed R74.772 million to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2010. This represented 3.1% of the country's total GDP. Approximately 4.3% of South Africa's population was directly employed in tourism in 2010, which represented 567,378 people.

Foreign tourist arrivals to South Africa grew by 3.3 percent between 2010 and 2011. In 2011, 8.3 million foreign tourists arrived in South Africa according to StatsSA and South Africa Tourism. The top 5 markets with improving seasonality included Brazil, Japan, the United States, Australia and Sweden. Yet, the major source of travellers to South Africa remains Africa with 5.8 million arrivals by land and 356,191 arrivals by air in 2011. Visitors from Europe totalled over 1.2 million visitors, while the Americas and Asia/Australasia accounted for 432,890 and 420,666 respectively. The total foreign direct spend on tourism was R74 billion in 2011, with the average foreign visitor spending R8,900 per visit and the average stay lasting 8.3 nights.

Domestic travel and tourism is a significant segment of South Africa's tourism sector. According to South Africa Tourism, 13.9 million South Africans took a domestic trip in 2011 and spent R20.3 billion. In total, 26.4 million domestic trips were taken in 2011. Visiting friends or relatives accounted for 43% of these trips, while 15% were for holidays. Religious holidays, medical visits and other reasons accounted for remaining trips within South Africa. Domestic tourists spent R2.1 billion in 2010, with travellers spending an average of R780 per trip and staying an average of 4.4 nights at their destination.

Major Destinations and Attractions

South Africa's cities are top attractions for foreign and domestic tourists. Johannesburg is renowned for its shopping, entertainment and restaurants. The so-called City of Gold is where the African heartbeat reverberates through the sprawling urban centre. Along the coast in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban is where travellers find fun in the sun. The province itself is one of the country's major tourist destinations. Golden beaches and a scenic coastline are ideal spots for surfing, diving and family entertainment.

One of Africa's most scenic cities is Cape Town. The city and the Cape Peninsula feature stunning natural landmarks, including the iconic Table Mountain. Cape Town and the surrounding region are perfect for a relaxed vacation, with world-class dining, nightlife and shopping. The region also boasts picturesque beaches and is a popular destination for whale watchers. The Cape is also home to South Africa's award-winning wines and wineries. Wine routes wind though lush valleys and historic towns through the Winelands, providing the perfect day trip. Road trips are also popular along the famed Garden Route. Linking Heidelberg in the Southern Cape with Storms River Village on the border with the Eastern Cape, the scenic route runs along the N2.

A poignant destination in South Africa is Soweto. The country's largest township and one of the most historic, the streets of Soweto were at the centre of the anti-apartheid movement. Travellers to the township often visit Freedom Struggle sites or enjoy a meal at a township restaurant, also known as a shebeen. Robben Island is another historic destination for visitors interested in delving into South Africa's past. The island is where Nelson Mandela, the country's first post-apartheid president, was imprisoned. Although Robben Island has become a symbol of brutal oppression, it has also come to represent hope.

South Africa's wildlife and natural beauty remains its top attraction. Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve is an idyllic setting for a scenic road trip or hike. The protected area is home to the world's third largest canyon and God's Window, which provides some of the country's most dazzling views. With almost 2 million hectares, Kruger National Park is home to 16 different ecosystems. Visitors can go on safari to catch a glimpse of Africa's Big Five (elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo). For a taste of untamed wilderness, the Wild Coast offers remote hiking and horseback trials. It is also a perfect spot to see dolphins or unwind on a deserted beach.