South Africa has plenty to offer international visitors

16 October 2014

Cooling Towers

The Orlando Cooling Towers in Soweto offer bungee jumping to visitors. (Photo: Gauteng Tourism)

Britons Harbin Dawson and his sister Suzanne are regular visitors to South Africa. Each time they landed at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, they would immediately catch a connecting flight Cape Town to visit relatives.

Born to a South African mother in West Sussex, in the south of England, the Dawsons visit South Africa once every four years and have never toured the rest of the country, except to visit relatives in Cape Town. It is only recently that they realised South Africa has plenty to offer visitors and they decided to explore Johannesburg.

Vilakazi Street

On a tour of Soweto, South Africa’s most famous township, the Dawsons decided to visit Vilakazi Street, the only street in the world to have housed two Nobel Prize winners – Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“It is our first time touring Johannesburg,’ said 18-year-old Suzanne who, together with Harbin, their mother and extended family members, was having lunch at Thrive Cafe. Suzanne said Vilakazi Street is her favourite spot whenever she and her brother visit Johannesburg.

Harbin echoed his sister’s sentiments, saying: “It’s our first time in Soweto, and so far, this is our only and favourite spot in Johannesburg. We normally just land at the airport and leave for Cape Town. This is a nice experience for us’.

The Dawsons, who had been in the country for three weeks, said they would love to tour other parts of the country but, unfortunately, have to leave for England in two days’ time.

Increasing international visitors

The Dawsons are just a part of the increasing number of international tourists who are discovering the wonders that South Africa can offer visitors. The continuous increase in the number of tourists visiting the country remains one of the biggest success stories of the past 20 years.

The latest release from Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) indicate that International arrivals have surged by 300% since 1994 to reach nearly 15-million in 2013. In 2013 alone, South Africa welcomed a total of 9 616 964 tourists, up from the 9 188 368 tourists that visited South Africa in 2012.

South Africa’s international tourist arrivals grew at an annual average growth rate of 7.4% between 2011 and 2013, well above the global average of 4.5% during this period. The country also saw good growth out of Europe, its largest overseas market for tourist arrivals, in 2013. A total of 1 494 978 European tourist arrivals were recorded in 2013, a 7.0% increase on the 1 396 978 European tourists who visited South Africa in 2012.

Hermanus, a favourite tourist spot

The Dawsons said when they are in the Western Cape, their favourite spot is Hermanus – a town on the southern coast, famous for whale watching during the winter and spring. Suzanne said she also admires the Waterfront and the beaches in Cape Town. “I love the view and everything about it,’ she said.

The Dawsons said they find South Africa very welcoming and friendly. They said given the opportunity, they would visit more often. “There’s a nice, different feeling you get in South Africa, like. I don’t even know how to describe it, It gives you that natural feel,’ said Suzanne, who will begin studying Philosophy in England soon.

In total, South Africa recorded 417 582 North American tourists in 2013, up from 393 446 in 2012. South Africa’s second largest market, the USA, accounted for 348 646 tourist arrivals in 2013, reflecting 6.7% growth on the 326 643 Americans that visited South Africa in 2012.

US visitors

Thirty-three year-old Brad Haynes from Tennessee, in the US, was visiting South Africa for the first time with his friend Josh Johnson. They said their stay in South Africa has been an amazing experience, although they have only visited Cape Town and Johannesburg.

“The diversity and everything about the country have been amazing. There are no other places we have been to, that are similar to parts of America, like South Africa.

“Cape Town is pretty similar to San Francisco, in terms of climate changes and its crazy people. Johannesburg has been awesome too,’ said Haynes, who works as an engineer in the US.

Johnson said their South Africa tour had been a good experience. “Everybody is very friendly. We have been here for a few weeks. If we get another chance, we would love to tour Johannesburg more, and also go to Robben Island and the Drakensburg Mountains,’ he said.

Thrive Cafe

The Head Chef and Events Architect at Thrive Cafe in Vilakazi Street, Paddy Khuele, said the restaurant opened its doors in November last year, and already employs 12 South African youth.

“Vilakazi Street lacked that cosmopolitan and contemporary offering. We wanted South Africans and tourists, who are not as adventurous, to find an exquisite restaurant in Soweto, which they would normally find in the suburbs of Johannesburg,’ Khuele said, adding that tourists contributed vastly in generating profit for the restaurant.

However, the majority of support came from locals, who previously travelled to Sandton to get what Thrive Cafe offers, according to Khuele. “The ratio is almost 60:40, where the 60% of our clients are locals and 40% tourists. Even locals who are not from Soweto come to Thrive Cafe. We get a positive response from locals,’ he said.

Safe environment

The growing number of tourists in Soweto owes to the safe environment in the township and dispels the fallacious perception that South African townships are crime ridden. Khuele said ever since he started operating along Vilakazi Street, no crime has been reported along the street.

Twenty-year-old Boikanyo Mataboge is one of the many street vendors on Vilakazi Street peddling craft ware. He said t-shirts with Nelson Mandela printed on them are his top-selling items.

He realised his artistic talent in his teenage years and decided to turn it into a career about four years ago. However, he only started trading along Vilakazi Street in 2012.

“I use recycled material to create my craft products, sometimes I buy off-cuts,’ said Mataboge, who grew up in Palm Ridge but now resides in Phomolong, Soweto.

Mataboge said business along Vilakazi Street had its peak and off-peak days, with Wednesdays and weekends being the busiest days. “Sometime I subcontract another artist, when I see the workload piles up.’

Mataboge said most of his customers are foreign visitors and he would like to see more locals supporting his business.

“[Local visitors] are afraid of buying. They hold a perception that everything sold in Vilakazi Street is expensive, which is not the case,’ he said.

SAinfo reporter and