By Chris Bathembu
Mbashe – As South Africa marked World Tourism Day on Thursday, government has urged communities to embrace tourism development, saying it was central to the country’s economic growth.
Minister of Tourism Marthinus Van Schalkwyk told villagers in the Eastern Cape, where this year’s tourism celebrations are being held, that in the next decade the tourism sector will become the biggest employer in the country.
“We are seeing major developments on the horizon and we want to take you with us and we want you to help us as we make tourism the biggest employer and contributor to our country’s economy,” van Schalkwyk said, speaking at the event in Mbashe village, about 50km from Mthatha.
His audience consisted mainly of unskilled people whose livelihood depended on community projects and selling handmade crafts.
“Tourism is at the moment the fastest growing sector of our economy. As a country we are outpacing all our competitors and our own figures show that we are growing fast. These figures translate into real jobs and we would like to urge all South Africans to take this opportunity,” van Schalkwyk said.
The United Nations declared 27 September as World Tourism Day to highlight the importance of the sector in promoting growth and development. World Tourism Day 2012 is being celebrated under the theme “Tourism and Sustainable Energy: Powering Sustainable Development”.
South Africa, like many other countries, seeks to introduce more environmentally friendly and cost effective innovations in the tourism sector with a focus sustainable energy, and the so-called green jobs.
Van Schalkwyk said his department had embarked on initiatives to empower tourism entrepreneurs with the necessary skills to boost community tourism and encourage South Africans to travel more within the country.
“We still believe that community tourism and in particular domestic tourism is still crucial to our growth so we encourage more and more South Africans to travel around.”
Globally, tourism is a leading export sector, accounting for 30% of the world’s services exports, estimated at $1 trillion a year. It now also constitutes 45% of the total services exports in developing countries and makes a significant source of export revenue for our country.
In 2011, travel and tourism exports constituted 67.9% of all services exports from our country. Travel and tourism exports earnings for South Africa exceed exports of automotive manufacturing, chemicals manufacturing, agriculture, financial services, education and construction. In fact, mining is the only sector that beats tourism’s share of total exports.
Situated on the banks of the glorious Mbashe River, Mbashe has been identified as a growing tourist destination in the wild coast area. Government has seen the growth potential in the area with officials saying it could be crucial to plans to reposition the wild coast area as one of the region’s most loved tourist attractions.
Recently, President Jacob Zuma visited the construction site of the Nelson Mandela Legacy Bridge near Mbashe. Once completed, the bridge will connect Ludondolo to Mvezo, on the other side of the Mbashe River. It will also be connected to a new 10km tar road linking Mvezo to the N2. The development is expected to reduce the distance between Mvezo and East London, Mthatha and Idutywa by more than 50km.
Locals say the developments in the area will attract visitors to this poverty stricken community which also happens to be the birth place of former President Nelson Mandela.
“While this area is rich in history and heritage, a lack of access to proper amenities and roads as well as employment has meant that Mbashe and the entire district is reduced to a poverty hole and all of that should change now. We are growing the area, we are building roads, bridges dams,” said local leader Chief Mandla Mandela.
Mandela said South Africans often forgot about the beauty of their country due to the slow pace of development.
“People lose interest and stop appreciating this beauty because to them it means nothing when you are poor and unemployed. On this Tourism Day we say let’s go back to the basics and start protecting our nature and make something out of the natural resources at our disposal.”
Tourism officials say over the past year, South Africa’s travel receipts have also increased by an encouraging R10.6 billion, or 14% year-on-year. The South African Reserve Bank reported last week that travel receipts increased again in the second quarter of 2012, rising by R5 billion to R83.5 billion.
This is an all-time record high, and now far exceeds the level of travel receipts recorded during the second quarter of 2010, more or less at the time of the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Economists believe that the current trend can be maintained – especially as South Africa has established an exceptional profile for itself globally. – SAnews.gov.za