Tourism has the potential to change people's lives for the better, especially during these globally depressed economic times, President Jacob Zuma has said.
In addition to job creation, tourism also provided opportunities for entrepreneurship, Zuma said at the official opening of the Travel Indaba in Durban on Tuesday.
Given the low barriers to entry, tourism made it possible for new entrants, particularly women and the youth, to get into business, Zuma said.
He said in this era of the fourth industrial revolution, which may threaten traditional jobs, tourism's labour absorption capacity remained a greater weapon against unemployment.
"In South Africa, we believe that tourism is everybody's business. It's everyone's business to grow it," he said.
To support this approach, Zuma announced the country's new campaign, called We Do Tourism.
The campaign challenged every South African to contribute to tourism, said Zuma.
"With this campaign, people will appreciate the immense value of tourism in their lives," he said.
Zuma revealed that the total contribution of tourism to the country's economy in 2015 was about R375bn.
"Tourism now supports more than 1.5 million jobs. We want tourism to support 2.2 million jobs by 2026," he said.
Five-in-five tourism growth strategy
Zuma said government was working hard to achieve further growth in the sector.
"Our aim is to make South Africa one of the top 20 tourism destinations in the world," he said.
He said in order to achieve this, South Africa would be aggressively promoting its new five-in-five tourism growth strategy.
"Simply put, we want to attract five million more international arrivals and domestic tourists within the next five years," he said.
Zuma said the global tourism trends were also encouraging.
According to the United Nation's World Tourism Organisation, tourism around the world recorded its 17th straight year of substantial growth since the global financial crisis, said Zuma.
"More than a billion people now travel around the world every year. Africa enjoyed an 8% increase in international tourist travel arrivals to reach 58 million arrivals. This means that Africa is growing at twice the rate of the global average," he said.
However, these arrivals were only 5% of the one billion global tourists. This indicated the immense potential for further growth in the continent's tourism sector, Zuma said.
'We want Africa to be special'
He added that the government was happy that South Africa had experienced a 13% increase in international visitors to Africa.
He said Africa was planning to have the fastest train "that will touch all the main capital cities of the continent".
"We want Africa to be special. We want those who come to Africa to feel like not going back, because Africa will be offering everything you need," he said.
Zuma said the continent also needed more aviation connectivity, "so that ultimately one does not need to fly to Europe first before reaching a north African destination from South Africa".
The president also announced that the Inkosi Albert Luthuli ICC in Durban would be the home of the Tourism Indaba for the next five years.
Sihle Zikalala, the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, said the announcement augured well for the province's transformation efforts.
"As KwaZulu-Natal, we have always used major events such as the Tourism Indaba to grow the economy of the province. But moreover, we want to ensure that tourism benefits not just a select few but also benefits the previously marginalised, the women and youth in particular."