Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.   Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

Exponential growth in the number of tourist arrivals from China was the result of promotional initiatives along with increased trade relations with SA since its inclusion into the Brics group of countries, Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said on Wednesday.

The number of inbound tourists from China grew by 63.5% between January and September last year, and the world’s second-largest economy was now SA’s fourth-biggest overseas tourist market, Mr van Schalkwyk said.

Over the nine-month period, 96,747 Chinese tourists travelled to SA, up from the 59,187 over the same period in 2011.

Michael Tollman, chairman and acting CEO of tourism and leisure group Cullinan Holdings, said last month Cullinan had begun to set up an office in Shanghai to operate an inbound programme for Chinese tourists.

The "Chinese market is huge" and Cullinan expects healthy tourism growth out of China as its luxury outbound travel market begins to flourish, he said.

According to the Tourism Business Council of SA and the First National Bank tourism business index released on Tuesday, SA’s tourism sector was showing a return to normal trading levels after a difficult period, and the outlook this year was positive.

Mr van Schalkwyk, with South African Tourism and other delegates, left for Beijing on Wednesday on a road show "to celebrate the value and potential" of China as a major tourism market and to build on the growing tourism relationship.

Mr van Schalkwyk said since joining Brics in 2011, "we have witnessed an increase in trade relations between China and SA — with considerable Chinese investment in SA and an increase in interest, awareness and understanding between our countries".

Last year, the Department of Tourism concluded joint marketing agreements with seven trade and marketing partners in China, while nonstop flights between Johannesburg and Beijing were also introduced.

Meanwhile, the Cape Chamber of Commerce this week expressed concern that Cape Town was already paying the price for South African Airways’ (SAA’s) decision to halt direct flights to and from London and the demise of the domestic lowcost carrier 1time Airline. The chamber said it would urge SAA to reconsider its decision.

SAA last year announced that passengers flying from Cape Town to London would be rerouted via Johannesburg, leaving only British Airways and Virgin Air offering the direct service.

Latest statistics from the Airports Company SA showed a drop in the number of domestic and international flights arriving in Cape Town as well as a drop in the number of passengers landing in the city.

T he number of passengers arriving on international flights last month was 78,204 — 10.2% lower than the figure for December 2011. Passenger numbers were also down by more than 14% in October and November.

Fred Jacobs, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce said he had hoped that other airlines would arrange more flights to fill the gaps left by SAA and 1time, to keep up the flow of visitors to Cape Town. He said that last month’s tally of 318,665 passengers arriving on domestic flights was down by 5.6%.

The figure for the number of international aircraft landing in Cape Town last month was 277, down 13.4% from the 320 flights which landed in December 2011.