Cape Town - South Africa is perfectly situated to become a major travel hub for the southern hemisphere, Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said on Thursday.
"There is a major opportunity to establish ourselves as a hub for south, south travel... we are perfectly situated to be that hub... we're in the middle of the corridor," he told the Cape Town Press Club.
The minister used a map of global flight traffic to prove his point, which showed moving planes as bright yellow dots.
Huge yellow clusters could be seen spraying over North America and spreading out from Europe. Smaller clusters could be seen over India and China.
The southern hemisphere had less air space presence, with smaller yellow clumps concentrated over parts of South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Australia.
The minister said the United Kingdom continued to be the country's largest tourism market, with over 215 000 people visiting our shores in the first six months of this year.
The United States and Germany were the next biggest markets.
In emerging tourism markets, there was an 88.4% jump in visitors from China in the first half of this year. In the same period, 68.3% more Brazilians visited the country.
Despite increased spending on these emerging markets, the spending on traditional markets was bigger and would remain so for many years still, the minister said.
Van Schalkwyk was questioned whether there was still a need for national carrier SA Airways (SAA) from a tourism perspective.
"The answer to that, probably, is many countries don't need a national carrier but in my view, South Africa as a long-haul destination needs a national carrier."
He emphasised the need was for a well-capitalised and well-managed SAA.
The carrier had, earlier this year, requested a cash injection of R4 billion to R6 billion for recapitalisation.
"We gave, as Cabinet, a very clear mandate to SAA and that is they must start cutting their losses, that they must manage themselves better and make sure that it's not a drag on the taxpayer."
The minister welcomed healthy competition in the sector. The number of airlines flying in and out of the country had increased from around 26 to over 50 since the implementation of the airlift strategy in 2006. This strategy sought to increase flight growth and capacity over five years.
"Better competition, more competition, driving down prices, more choice, that's what we want."