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France remains an important key market for tourists to South Africa and investment in maintaining and growing arrivals from France will continue. So said the National Tourism Minister, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, when he addressed a gala dinner at the annual Top Resa French travel show and exhibition in Paris on 22 September 2011.

Last year, 115 401 French nationals visited South Africa either as leisure or business tourists, 11% more French visitors to South Africa than was the case in 2009.

Van Schalkwyk says: “Of course last year’s Fifa World Cup was a significant driver of tourist arrivals to South Africa… not only from France, but from the whole of Europe and the rest of the world too. The Fifa World Cup precipitated significant investment in infrastructure; up-skilled the South African tourism industry to deliver even higher levels of service excellence to visitors; and raised the profile of destination South Africa to unprecedented levels all over the world. It also catapulted South Africa into a new era… the era in which South Africa arrived as global host of choice of big event tourism.

“More than 100 international associations have their headquarters in France. We want to win more of the business of these associations for their meetings, conferences, events and exhibitions for our destination,” the minister adds.

South Africa is set to host more than 200 international events over the next five years. These events are expected to attract over 300 000 delegates from all over the world. The minister adds that the imminent launch of the Conventions Bureau will lead development efforts that will position South Africa as Africa’s leading centre for regional and international conventions, exhibitions and incentives.

Speaking of the 1.5% decline in French arrivals to South Africa from May 2010 to May 2011, van Schalkwyk says that as the global economy is still recovering from the recession, the slight drop is understandable. However, he believes that South Africa’s continued investment in France will ensure that that country remains the strong tourism market it had always been.

Air France is due to open a new Paris-Cape Town route in November with three flights a week. This is seen as evidence of the confidence the aviation sector has in both the South African destination and in the French market’s imminent full recovery, says the minister.

South Africa’s theme at Top Resa this year was Responsible and Sustainable Tourism and a record number of 12 South African exhibiting companies were in attendance.

“Responsible and sustainable tourism embraces a number of imperatives. They include everything from procuring fresh produce locally to support the businesses of local communities; to recycling water; planting trees to offset the carbon footprint of the industry; to what we like to call in South Africa ‘treading lightly’ to preserve our magnificent wild and wilderness areas.

“South Africans jealously protect their cultural authenticity and unspoiled natural beauty. Not only because they draw tourists to South Africa, but also because they are precious and valuable to the South African people,” Minister van Schalkwyk concludes.

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