The setting, at Chef Thomas Keller’s landmark Per Se restaurant, at Columbus Circle overlooking Central Park — in April, no less — could not have been more exquisite. But the conversation at yesterday’s press luncheon hosted by South African Tourism made this guest wish to be, oh, about 8,000 miles away.
South Africa’s Minister of Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk brought good news about tourism in that country — it currently is the fastest-growing sector of the South African economy. The news reflected very well on the power of democracy: In 1994, the year that South Africa held its first democratic elections, South Africa was host to less than 600,000 international travelers. This year the country expects to break 10 million-visitors mark.
In recent years, Van Schalkwyk noted, there has been a $7 billion investment of government and private dollars in South Africa’s infrastructure. In anticipation of the 2010 Soccer World Cup, the country has invested millions in the nation’s three main airports, and flights operate daily between Johannesburg and New York and Washington, D.C. The event, which is being held in Africa for the first time, is expected to attract an audience of 34 million.
Although South Africa, with a 4 percent growth in visitors last year, is doing better than the global average, there is still plenty of room for more growth, van Schalkwyk said. Particularly in the area of business and conference travelers.
Once business travelers come to South Africa, they are likely to return, van Schalkwyk said. “South Africa has one of the highest rates of repeat visitors,” he said. “We treat visitors well.”