Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden was the venue for a meeting between international tourism diplomats and Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom yesterday.
To celebrate the fact the garden had had one million visitors, Hanekom invited Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the World Tourism Organisation and David Scowsill, chief executive of the World Travel and Tourism Council, to enjoy the delights of the garden and take a walk along the Tree Canopy Way, better known as the Boomslang because of how the walkway winds through the treetops like a snake.
The delegates stopped to take photos of the mountain and the canopy below them.
The group ended the tour at the Moyo restaurant where they were welcomed by traditional singing and dance.
And then they got down to some serious discussions.
Hanekom said the milestone achieved by Kirstenbosch was a tribute to the hard work and vision of the South African National Biodiversity Institute.
“South Africa’s botanical gardens provided a window on South Africa’s rich natural heritage, exposing visitors to the country’s biodiversity.”
Rifai, who is visiting the country for the first time, said he felt privileged to be here.
“It is not often that we get quality time in a place; we are always being moved from one airport to another.”
Although the country had a lot to offer, it needed some repackaging.
“South Africa can, with out a doubt, celebrate diversity. But you need to engage more with international people. The world needs South Africa and you have a lot to offer.”
Rifai said the local tourism industry was missing out on a “great market” which could help boost the economy.
“The visa system is prohibiting many from coming to South Africa. It takes a lot of time and money to travel from one council office to another. For example, for Chinese people to get a visa to come to South Africa they need to travel to Beijing to get their documents, and often they have to return to the consular offices more than once.”
The secretary-general’s opinion was echoed by Scowsill.
Scowsill compared the country’s visa regulations to those in the US post 9/11.
“After 9/11, America was very strict on whom they allowed into their country, but three years ago they realised that this was impacting negatively on their tourism growth.
“They introduced an electronic and biometric system whereby you can apply online for your visa and all your information will be added on to the biometric machines so that you just used your fingerprints for identification and approval.”
Another issue raised was the need for an easy and affordable transport system for young travellers and backpackers.
Rifai said about 1.1 billion tourists travelled each year and a third of those were under the age of 29. Cape Town and its surrounds attracted many young visitors, but places were not always easy to visit.
“Young people come for week-long visits… if they want to go outside the city to understand the real South Africa they need a transport system that will make it easier. It doesn’t have to be sophisticated.”
Hanekom accepted the suggestions raised by his guest.
“The advice is very useful.”
He said his ministry planned to carefully examine the visa applications, and tourism requirements were being reviewed.
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