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Welcome to Tourism Month by Tourism Minister Tokozile Xasa

It was another perfect landing.

Air China Flight 867 touched down smoothly at O R Tambo International Airport at 6.16 am on Friday 1 September.

Among the passengers arriving in South Africa were hundreds of tourists from Beijing.

As the Boeing 777 300 taxied to its parking bay at Terminal A, hundreds of minibus taxis had just started their southbound trip on the N3 freeway, taking people working in Gauteng back home to Durban, and many other regions of our country, for the month-end weekend.

Now why should anyone in South Africa bother about these two rather ordinary, everyday occurrences: Chinese airline passengers arriving in our country by choice, and South Africans who are forced to endure a cramped taxi trip home?

After all, around 250 flights arrive and depart through OR Tambo every day. And the passengers on Flight 867 were from China, the world's largest and most lucrative source market for tourism. The current exchange rate makes it easy for them to come here and enjoy our attractions, but difficult for the South Africans travelling in the taxi to go abroad.

Arriving international tourists and taxi commuters are significant for the future of tourism and for the national economy

Flight 867 was the first overseas flight to land at Africa's busiest airport in Tourism Month, heralding the start of activities and events designed to highlight the immense value of tourism for South Africa.

The activities will culminate in the celebration of World Tourism Day in Mpumalanga, in alignment with the UNWTO's declaration of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

International and domestic tourists are the lifeblood of our industry, which now accounts for about 3% of our national GDP. In 2016, the value of our tourism market reached R102 billion, an 11 percent increase over 2015. Domestic tourism brought in R26.5 billion, and R75.5 billion came from international tourism.

We are poised to grow on this success. South African Tourism's 5-in-5 strategy aims to attract an additional four million international tourists and one million domestic tourists in the next five years.

Every international tourist passing through the arrivals hall at O R Tambo represents economic and social opportunities for all our people, not only for the over 700 000 people who are directly employed in the tourism industry. They support sustainable tourism in South Africa.

The money they spend in our country, and the experiences they take back home when they leave, are important elements of tourism's contributions to South Africa's overall economic and social sustainability.

The taxi's passengers are travelling home primarily to visit their friends and families, but there is great potential to bring them into the mainstream tourism economy. They must be made aware of the opportunities to enjoy local tourism attractions in their area, especially with the special offers that are being put on during September, like free entry for families at selected game parks. 

Tourism Month is a great opportunity to promote domestic tourism and create a culture of travel amongst South Africans. We want to spread awareness of the affordable, accessible and world class attractions that are available on our own doorstep, including lesser-known tourism products and our hidden gems.

The development and growth of the domestic tourism market is critical to the long-term sustainability of our tourism industry.

For tourism to be sustainable, it must make a low impact on the environment and on indigenous culture, and generate employment for local people. We want tourists to enjoy meaningful experiences and become more aware about sustainable tourism practices.

Communities throughout our country can say "We Do Tourism" by contributing to environmentally sustainable tourism and using recyclable products, promoting energy efficiency, supporting anti-poaching initiatives, and ensuring that we have clean and safe neighbourhoods.

Communities can contribute to social sustainability by banding together in effective co-operatives to supply goods and services to tourists, and by providing the authentic cultural experiences that the Chinese tourists on Flight 867, and many international tourists, are now yearning for.

We can accelerate radical economic transformation by bringing more communities into the tourism mainstream, in a way that is meaningful for them and sustainable for the future. 

On the domestic tourism front, we can Do Tourism by joining together to encourage and facilitate domestic holiday trips, and inspire entrepreneurial activities within the sector.

We can attend music and food festivals, learn more about our respective traditions, and embrace all the nuances of our diversity. We can preserve and promote our various cultures, and enhance social cohesion by creating understanding among our people.

Activities in Mpumalanga during Tourism Month include the provincial Lilizela Awards on 8 September, the Mbombela Jazz Festival on the 9th, an SMME fair on the 22nd and Mpumalanga Parks Week from 18 - 24 September, when South Africans can enjoy free access to selected provincial nature reserves.

Heritage Day celebrations will take place on the 24th, leading up to World Tourism Day Celebrations on the 27th. Our rich heritage is already a big part of our tourism offering. With Heritage Day and Tourism Day in the same month, we have an opportunity to embrace tourism as part of our heritage.

There is so much to see, and even more to do, in Mpumalanga this month. But there are also many attractions in our lesser known provinces. We can extract value from all these opportunities to develop and grow tourism further by involving everyone in our country.

Members of the public, people working in tourism, national government, provincial authorities, municipal agencies and host communities – every single person has a role to play.

Partnerships and collaboration will always be at the heart of successful and sustainable tourism.

When we all work together to Do Tourism, we can maximise the benefits of every single incoming flight of tourists to our country, and we can spread the benefits of tourism to the families of passengers on every minibus taxi carrying our people home to their families. Collectively, we must find ways to improve the leisure travel opportunities for the less privileged in our society.

As we pursue radical economic transformation in tourism and all its related sectors, we have an outstanding opportunity to accelerate the fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment. In all our efforts, we are guided by our vision for a better life for all South Africans.

For us, this fight would have been won when future generations of South Africans are adequately empowered to participate meaningfully as equals in the country's economy, and are able to fulfil their dreams and aspirations.

We would have won when the daughter of the migrant worker in the taxi stops seeing aviation as a luxury only for the privileged, but as an accessible and affordable form of travel for herself and her family, so that they can also take to the skies and board an airliner bound for China, if they choose to.  

Welcome to Tourism Month. Let's all Do Tourism, for the benefit of our country, our economy, and all our people.