No effort spared in protecting much-needed visitors as South African tourism blossoms

Tourists and families enjoying their time out and taking selfies at the newly revamped Umhlanga Whale Bone pier in Durban. File Picture: Tumi Pakkies/Independent Newspapers

Tourists and families enjoying their time out and taking selfies at the newly revamped Umhlanga Whale Bone pier in Durban. File Picture: Tumi Pakkies/Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 24, 2024


The Republic of South Africa, endowed with a diverse range of natural attractions and world-famous destinations continues to be a favourite choice for wanderlust international tourists seeking a unique, unparalleled African experience.

Last year, South Africa was voted as the Best Country to Visit by 27,000 passionate readers of the United Kingdom’s Telegraph Travel publication. The Britons also voted for Cape Town as their favourite city in the world in the 2023 Telegraph Travel Awards.

Speaking to IOL, Department of Tourism spokesperson Zara Nicholson said South Africa continues to be rated as a prime tourist destination and the government is continually working “hard” to diversify and improve the country’s tourism offering “so that we can continue to attract more visitors”.

Earlier this month, another United Kingdom publication The Times reported that South Africa’s high crime rates are one of the factors that have been putting off tourists in recent years.

Tourists and Capetonians enjoying summer weather around the world-famous city. File Picture: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers

Citing a travel advice issued by the UK Foreign Office, the publication highlights the potential of terrorist attacks, in a country bedevilled car hijackings, armed robberies and other violent crimes.

Earlier this month, IOL reported that three Zimbabwean men, Jan Thabonga Moshabi, Abstein Madzvimbo, and Thomas Moyo were remanded in custody when they appeared before the Northam Magistrate’s Court in Limpopo for the brutal murder of a German tourist.

The trio allegedly assaulted, robbed, kidnapped and killed 74-year-old German tourist, Herman Gunter Friedrich Westphal at Northam, in Limpopo.

The incident, like other unfortunate incidents of crime involving tourists spurred local and international headlines, shedding the light once again on the safety of tourists visiting South Africa.

Some commentators however highlighted that tourists are not specifically targeted, but fall victim to the rampant which affects all people within South Africa.

Minister of Tourism, Patricia de Lille with former Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to South Africa, Chen Xiaodong at a recent celebration at Sun Arena Time Square in Pretoria. File Picture: Jacques Naude / Independent Newspapers

In a reassuring message, Nicholson emphasised that stakeholders in South Africa, including the government and the private sector are doing much to ensure the safety of tourists is guaranteed.

“The safety and security of our visitors is of utmost importance to the South Africa’s tourism sector - government and the private sector. We regret any incident of crime against visitors and we continue to work closely with SAPS (SA Police Service), local authorities and community members to ensure the safety of all visitors,” she said.

Nicholson pointed that Pretoria is making considerable efforts through media campaigns and activations in key source markets at global travel trade shows to market and sell destination South Africa.

“We have showcased our country at all major global travel trade shows in the USA, China, UK, Rwanda and in Berlin at shows such as World Travel Market London and ITB Berlin which took place earlier in March,” she said.

The government also continue to support enterprise development and showcasing of all South Africa has to offer, with the Department of Tourism providing funding for tourism businesses to travel to and exhibit at global travel trade shows, to sell their tourism offerings and to be part of Team South Africa showcasing what the vast southern African nation has to offer.

Recent official statistics of international tourist arrival figures by Statistics South Africa for January to December 2023 underscored the rising momentum of South Africa's tourism sector.

Cape Town is rated as one of the best cities to visit in the world. File Picture: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers

International tourist arrivals from January to December 2023 totalled 8.5 million, representing a remarkable 48.9% increase when compared with same period in 2022.

Africa continues to lead the way regarding inbound tourists in South Africa. The country welcomed 6.4 million visitors from the rest of the African continent between January and December 2023, marking a significant 75.6% of all arrivals.

“Zimbabwe and Kenya stood out for their remarkable growth, according to the Department of Tourism,” the national department said in a previous statement.

“Zimbabwe experienced a 70.8% increase in tourist arrivals to South Africa when compared to 2022, totalling 2.1 million arrivals; while Kenya recorded a 99% surge when compared to 2022, reaching 42,403 arrivals for January to December 2023.”

Custom officials at Beitbridge border with neighbouring Zimbabwe. File Picture: Independent Media

Another leading player in the bountiful South African tourism sector is the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA), and David Frost is its chief executive.

Responding to a query by IOL, Frost said ensuring the safety of visitors is not just a priority, but a mission.

“Our government and tourism sector stand united in this commitment, and we are setting new standards in enhancing our safety protocols and measures to ensure a welcoming environment for visitors to the country,” he said.

Chief Executive of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA), David Frost. Picture: Supplied/Shannon Van Zyl

“The tourism private and public sectors in South Africa have never worked as closely and as actively as we are currently to mitigate risks. Actions speak louder than words. We have deployed a collaborative, robust and proactive approach to tourism safety as one industry.”

In collaboration, Frost said the government and private sector stakeholders have rolled out several new safety initiatives which include over 2,300 Tourism Monitors who have been “strategically” deployed in high-density tourist areas across South Africa to provide visibility, guidance, emergency assistance, and deter criminal activity.

“⁠Enhanced security measures have been established in locations where incidents were reported, including increased police patrols equipped with improved response capabilities, state-of-the-art security camera systems with analytics, better street lighting, and more,” said Frost.

“We have also rolled out an emergency response app, called SECURA Traveller, which tourists can access on arrival, providing them with quick support in any emergency. Prompt support is accessible via our SECURA Traveller 24-hour emergency service alongside area first responders specially trained to aid visitors if incidents arise, providing assistance until authorities arrive,” he said.

“We also have incident management specialists who assist tourists who have been affected by crime, accidents, etc. These Tourism Angels assist affected tourists with trauma counselling, translation services, transport, lodging, logistics, and other support as needed. Travellers have access to over 300 angels who will assist in crisis response to promptly aid visitors who have experienced distressing situations.”

In addition, Frost said comprehensive safety details are proactively provided across multiple sources - prominent websites, social channels, printed materials in accommodations and airports, plus in-person from local tourist guides across South Africa.

The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) said every South Africa should commit to ensure a safe and secure environment for tourists. File Picture

“This encompasses prudent practices and current risks to be aware of,” he said.

The SATSA reiterated that the key role of tourism in the South African economy cannot be overemphasised.

“It is important to highlight the immense value and promise of tourism for South Africa's economy and its people. Every tourist's safety is an investment in our country's future, highlighting the sector's pivotal role in empowering women, youth, and small and medium enterprises.

Tourism supports approximately 1.5 million direct and indirect jobs in South Africa. File Picture: Bongani Mbatha / Independent Media

“As the third-highest contributor to our GDP, tourism generates over R120 billion in foreign exchange annually and supports approximately 1.5 million direct and indirect jobs. Notably, many of these jobs are in peri-urban and rural areas where other industries have limited presence. Tourism is also a significant employer of women (70%) and youth (60%) and offers abundant opportunities for small and medium enterprises,” said Frost.

He said the economic benefits of tourism extend far beyond the direct impact.

Through its extensive supply chain, tourism supports sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, and services.

“For every R1 of direct GDP (gross domestic product) impact, an additional R1.50 is spent on supply chain and capital, creating a ripple effect throughout the economy. Given the immense potential of tourism to drive inclusive economic growth, job creation, and social upliftment, every South African must commit to create a safe and welcoming environment for all residents and visitors,” said Frost.

“By working hand in hand with our partners in government, law enforcement, technology, and other sectors, we are confident in our ability to implement global best practices in tourism safety and security.”

Frost reiterated that South Africa remains a destination that offers unparalleled breadth of tourism experience and hospitality, as evidenced in the many accolades it has stacked up in the past year, including South African Tourism being awarded the Best Adventure Tourism Destination at Today’s Traveller Awards 2023.

“We fully recognise the potential impact any negative incidents impacting tourists can have on South Africa's image and reputation as a tourist destination. We're committed to ensuring that the narrative of South Africa is not defined by isolated incidents but by the overwhelmingly positive experiences of millions of visitors,” Frost emphasised.

“It is however crucial to note that most of the millions of tourists who visit South Africa each year have a positive, incident-free experience. This is evidenced by our high rate of repeat visitors, a testament to the incredible offerings and warm hospitality of our nation.”

Renowned investigator and anti-crime analyst Calvin Rafadi told IOL that there are a few reasons why tourists at times fall victims to the rampant crime which also besieges South Africans.

Crime expert Calvin Rafadi. File Picture: Supplied

“Tourist are attacked because they carry foreign currency and expensive cameras, and also criminal believe that if you take a foreigner cell phone, it’s difficult for them to blacklist/block (the gadget), so therefore they can still be used even after tourists have left South Africa,” said Rafadi.

He said as a precaution, when touring known crime hotspots in parts of South Africa, the visitors could minimise potential attacks by travelling together avoid robberies.

“Tourist buses should always be escorted by unarmed guards - not to cause panic to our tourists,” said Rafadi.

He said the crime intelligence unit of the SAPS should play a leading role in tracing the criminals.

“SAPS crime intelligence should by now know who are the syndicates operating in and around those villages, informal settlements or townships,” said Rafadi.

“It’s important to protect our tourist, especially if any persons Google search for a place to visit they start with checking the weather, followed by the crime statistics for that place. So therefore our SAPS , the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and private security should take this industry very seriously as it’s part of our economy.”

He said in some cases, cases opened by tourists might crumble before courts because the complainants would have left South Africa to their native countries after the crime incidents.

“Cases whereby suspects are arrested and are attending courts, I wish Department of Justice should utilize zoom or teams for the victims, the tourists. If they (courts) always insist that the victims attend court physically, many cases end up being withdrawn from fear of the victims coming back into South Africa, especially to face those horrible criminals/syndicates in courts,” said Rafadi.