Johannesburg is still the most visited city in Africa, with Marrakesh in Morocco a close second. A recent Mastercard survey showed that 4.05 million people visited Joburg in the course of a year, spending about R32-billion.
Shopping tourists from the rest of Africa spent just under 11 nights in Jozi, on average, whereas business tourists spent three nights. The average spend per person was about R3,000 a day.
All this is encouraging but, upon closer inspection, the statistics reveal an interesting challenge for the city council’s Joburg Tourism directorate and the city’s tourism industry as a whole.
A fair amount of cross-border shopping takes place in the inner city of Joburg but, far and away, most visitors stay and spend their money in Sandton. If they have half a day to spare before jetting off to Cape Town, they may squeeze in a visit to Vilakazi Street in Soweto or Constitutional Hill.
Some might say Joburg is not Cape Town, that it is a business destination and it should stick to its strengths; it’s only natural that there should be a pooling of money and spending in the Sandton CBD as that’s where business visitors need to be. This may be largely true, but it does not mean people cannot be persuaded to stay a little longer in Joburg and be informed of what can be done beyond Sandton and Vilakazi Street.
This boils down to what I believe should be a major focal point of Joburg Tourism: How do we go about ensuring tourism spend is spread more evenly across the city?
We need to entice shoppers and business people to spend longer in the city and encourage them to go off the beaten track and explore a metropolitan area as large as London.
We must highlight just how much there is to do in the city and promote the attractions and activities – many of them hidden gems. For example, even most born-and-bred Joburgers are probably not aware that we have a fully-fledged national game reserve inside the city borders. The Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve is 680ha of African bush with large game and hundreds of bird species. A tourist does not have to travel far to experience the African bush; it could be done in between business meetings in Sandton.
Another interesting excursion is a trip to the bar at the top of Ponte Tower. The building has undergone refurbishment and boasts what I think is the best bird’s eye view of the city. The Joburg skyline and surrounds, viewed from Ponte, is easily comparable to the vistas seen from famous high-rise attractions such as the Petronas Towers in Malaysia.
Tourism is good for job creation, providing a range of different types of work, giving people from across the economic spectrum a chance to benefit.
There is stiff competition from other African cities. Being the current economic hub of the African continent does not entitle Joburg to number one tourist status – and does not necessarily bring growth.
To protect our place on the pedestal, we need to be inventive, proactive and competitive. It is not about bragging rights but about growing tourism that translates directly into jobs. Few other industries provide as good a spread of work opportunities from the executive to unskilled entry-level. Added to this, tourism has a multiplier effect – boosting activities such as construction, manufacturing and communication and tech services.
Recent studies have demonstrated the disproportionately high contribution tourism makes to economies trying to recover from downturns or recessions.
Finally, tourism is arguably the top industry in terms of potential to absorb unskilled and semi-skilled youth, with hospitality experience ranked as one of the most “future proof” skills to possess. With all of this going for it, tourism in Joburg must fully explore the outer reaches of its growth potential. DM
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