Mbombela — Domestic tourism is key to creating sustainable jobs for locals, says Deputy Tourism Minister Thokozile Xasa.
"Domestic tourism has the power to assist the province and the municipality in developing local products and creating local jobs," said Xasa at the launch of Tourism Month in Mpumalanga.
"It is highly critical to understand that we need to continue to build a sustainable tourism industry, we cannot rely on foreign arrivals too heavily, as this market can be very volatile."'
The theme of the launch was "Tourism and Sustainable Energy: Powering Sustainable Development."
Xasa said it was extremely encouraging that domestic tourism has been performing well.
According to Tourism South Africa's Annual Report for 2010, Mpumalanga was the third most visited province by foreign visitors in 2010 with a share of 14.1% of total foreign arrivals.
Mpumalanga however contributed only 6% of domestic tourism bed nights in 2010.
Since 2005, the growth in bed nights spent by domestic tourists nevertheless grew faster than the national rate, indicating that Mpumalanga is fast becoming a top destination of choice for South Africans.
South Africa's tourism growth from all markets at the beginning of 2012 was up by 11.7% in the first four months of the year, with regional African growth up 9.8% in the same period.
Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) chief executive Edward Twala supported Xasa's views. "The backbone of tourism in any country is domestic tourism and our aim in Mpumalanga is to showcase the exciting attractions the province has to offer, many of which have left international tourists awestruck, but which are still to be discovered by local travellers right here at home," said Twala.
The United Nation's World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) says that travel and tourism is the third largest industry in the world.
With a gross domestic product (GDP) of 9%, it is larger than automotive manufacturing which contributes 8% while mining contributes 8% and chemicals manufacturing at 7%.
"The industry is expected to create an additional 21 million direct jobs over the next decade, taking total direct employment to over 120 million, which constitutes more than 3.5% of total employment - excluding the multiplier effect," said economic development, environment and tourism MEC Norman Mokoena.
Mpumalanga is rich with geological history with the Barberton's Mkonjwa Mountain range, holding some of the best preserved rock formations and microscopic life forms dating back 3.5 billion years along with the Blyde River canyon which is the third largest and only evergreen canyon in the world.
The MEC added that domestic tourism also encourages responsible tourism. "Humanity has to start living more sustainably if the planet is to survive and support life for the coming years so a sustainable use of energy is vital for the sustainability of the tourism sector," said Mokoena.