Can Tourism Help South Africa's Poor?

Leon Marshall in Johannesburg
for National Geographic News
March 28, 2005

South Africans voted to end apartheid in 1992. Four years later a government committee proposed that tourism be used as a development tool to support the economic, social, and environmental goals of the government and to empower previously neglected communities.

Those plans are now coming to fruition.

Between 1994 and 2002, the number of foreign tourists grew from 3.7 million to 6.4 million, or 72 percent, reports South Africa's Department of Environmental Affaires and Tourism.

As one of South Africa's fastest-growing industries, tourism has taken the lead over gold. Tourism brings in about 8.3 billion dollars (U.S.) annually, compared to gold's approximately 6.6 billion dollars, said Azar Jammine, a chief economist at Econometrix, a Johannesburg consulting firm. (See pictures of top South African sights.)

"People come here for our sunshine. They come for Cape Town, recognized as one of the world's most beautiful cities," Jammine said. "They come for our wildlife, for our variety of people and cultures and landscapes, and for our political history. They come to the land of Nelson Mandela."

Though far outranked by the manufacturing sector as a foreign-currency earner, tourism is a focal point of the country's strategy to reduce its high unemployment rates. Economists estimate that one job is created for every ten foreign tourists who visit South Africa.

Experts say tourism can be used as a development tool to bring the country's poor into the economic mainstream.

"We have changed the political sphere into a fully democratic dispensation," said Patrick Matlou, a tourism official with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. "Now we need to change the economic sphere."

"You cannot have 80 percent of your population locked out of the economic mainstream," he continued. "And tourism, with its vast range of activities—including transport, accommodation, and catering—is one of the sectors best suited to draw previously disadvantaged people into the mainstream."

Balancing Concerns

Legislation known as the Black Economic Empowerment Act was passed in 2003. It provides guidelines on how the private and the public sector should set about advancing black people, women, and other groups who were disadvantaged under apartheid.

When the law first went into effect, South Africa's Department of Trade and Industry produced a generic scorecard against which companies could measure themselves.

Continued on Next Page >>


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