Cape Town - Despite global challenges and threats to tourism - an increase in terror activity, unstable financial and economic situations like Brexit and growing political hostility as experienced from America's president-elect Donald Trump - demand for international tourism remained robust in 2016.
According to the latest World Tourism Organisation UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourist arrivals on the globe grew by 3.9% to reach a total of 1 235 million.
This means that some 46 million more tourists (overnight visitors) travelled internationally last year compared to 2015.
More than that, the past year also marked the seventh consecutive year of sustained growth following the 2009 global economic and financial crisis. A comparable sequence of uninterrupted solid growth has not been recorded since the 1960s.
SA tourism's upper hand for safety
South Africa remains very much in line with this global tourism trend, as tourism in the country is also on a continual upward curve.
South Africa’s tourism saw an impressive improvement during the 2016/2017 holiday period, with a total of 5 504 022 people moving through SA’s ports of entry between the period of 9 December 2016 and 14 January 2017 alone.
SEE: Festive Season stats rise: SA a safe haven in the global travel sphere
This marks an increase of 3.78%, or 200 467 people more compared to the 5 303 555 recorded for the same time last year, the Department of Home Affairs confirmed.
Speaking at a press conference in Pretoria, Home Affairs minister Malusi Gigaba said that SA offers a safe travel destination for international visitors, especially.
“People feel safe when they come here," he said. "Besides what SA offers as a tourism destination, it remains relatively isolated from the global turbulence that has occurred in other countries in the past year," the minister said, referring specifically to a terror attack in Germany in December last year when a lorry ploughed into a Christmas market in Berlin.
Gigaba said that "South Africa has remained relatively isolated from incidents like the tragedy in Germany, and a lot of other countries that have also experienced terrorism".
The UN body, on the other hand, cautioned that while still blessed with 620 million tourists last year, the growth in the number of visitors to Europe had slowed due to security concerns.
WTO chief Taleb Rifai told reporters the results in Europe were "very mixed," saying some destinations recorded "a double-digit growth rate and some others a flat rate."
READ: Asia dominates 1.2bn travellers in 2016 as security concerns stem Euro travel
France has been hard hit by extremist attacks in the past two years, and there are fears this has impacted tourist arrivals.
Paris, for one, has seen a drop in tourists after jihadists sowed terror in the French capital in November 2015, killing 130 people.
Tapping into global markets
South Africa is also tapping into the growing tourism nations, China especially.
Statistics presented by South African Tourism shows that the influx of Chinese tourists grew well over 60% between January and April 2016, in comparison to last year’s statistics. Moreover, during this period, China was South Africa’s sixth largest inbound market and is most likely to increase, since the average income of China’s middle class is continuously rising.
SEE: The Chinese are coming: What SA can expect from this tourism boom
SA continues to explore ways to entice the Chinese market, and Tourism officials are currently honing their Mandarin language skills in order to better facilitate Chinese travel to SA.
SEE: SA Tourism beefs up Chinese skills to ease foreign travel
Of all the people on Earth, Chinese included, more than 300 million more international tourists travelled the world in 2016 as compared to the previous record in 2008.
According to Rifai, “Tourism has shown extraordinary strength and resilience in recent years, despite many challenges, particularly those related to safety and security.
“Yet, international travel continues to grow strongly and contribute to job creation and the wellbeing of communities around the world,” Rifai says.
International year of Sustainable Tourism
Recalling that 2017 has been designated by the United Nations the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, Rifai says that all of the world's tourism authorities need to “work closer together to harness the contribution of tourism to economic growth, social inclusion, cultural and environmental preservation and mutual understanding, particularly when we live in times with such a deficit of respect and tolerance.”
South Africa again, is well on track with this trend.
SEE: SA outranks US as top global sustainable tourism destination
Financial injections to assist attractions to get off the grid have been implemented and more recently, South African Tourism's new CEO, Sisa Ntshona, insisted that SA Tourism would work to 'eradicate' wild animal interactions in the country.
"South African Tourism does not promote or endorse any interaction with wild animals such as the petting of wild cats, interacting with elephants and walking with lions, cheetahs and so on," Ntshona says.
He also said that conservation authorities' concerns about cub petting and other wildlife interaction practices are taken extremely seriously and that SA Tourism is in discussion with the "Sustainable Tourism Partnership Programme to see how we can work more closely with them to eradicate such practices".
SEE: New SA Tourism CEO hopes to 'eradicate' cub petting and animal interaction
"Our marketing efforts promote an authentic and credible tourism experience to all our tourists, and this includes an authentic wildlife experience to keep it as “wild” and natural as possible," Ntshona says.
In addition to the sustainable tourism efforts, SA Tourism also works to make travelling in the country a more accessible concept - both in terms of facilitating disabled persons, as well as making travel more affordable for local travellers, especially.
What to read next on Traveller24:
- OR Tambo International Airport to get R42 million boost
- Festive Season stats rise: SA a safe haven in the global travel sphere
- New SA Tourism CEO hopes to 'eradicate' cub petting and animal interaction