Cape Town - Tourism sector expects strong growth in 2016 after some strict new visa rules that reduced the number of arrivals in the previous year were lifted, the Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom said on Tuesday.
South Africa last year relaxed some of the visa rules it introduced in October 2014, dropping a requirement for visitors to apply for visas in person at South African embassies, following a backlash from tour operators and tourists.
READ: Hanekom: SA paying heavy price for new visa rules
"In January, over one million tourists arrived in South Africa, 15% more than in January last year," Hanekom told parliament.
"February brought an incredible 18% increase," Hanekom said, adding that while the Chinese market was showing signs of recovery, obtaining visas in India still took too long.
The tourism sector is considered as one of the main drivers of employment and economic growth in the economy.
READ: Events drive tourism growth in CT and surrounds
Sandy white beaches, rolling vineyards and attractions like Kruger National Park, Table Mountain and Robben Island, where anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela spent nearly two decades in jail, draw visitors from all over the world.
According to the National Treasury, tourism's direct contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) was R103.6bn in 2013, about 2.9% of GDP, while directly employing 655 609 people or 4.4% of total employment.
"Tourism is recovering rapidly from last year’s decline. 2016 promises to be a year of strong growth for tourism in South Africa," Hanekom said.
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