/ 8 May 2023

Police unit to protect tourists touted

SAPS unrest
South African National Defence Force soldiers and South Africa Police Services (SAPS) members line up in front of the Phoenix Police Station in Durban, on July 21, 2021. File photo by Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images

The government is considering setting up a special policing unit to protect tourists visiting South Africa, according to deputy minister of tourism Fish Mahlalela.

Crime is among the key concerns for South Africa’s tourism industry, which was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, Mahlalela told delegates attending Africa’s Travel Indaba — the largest tourism trade show on the continent — in Durban on Monday.

He said the government was making a concerted effort to work with law enforcement to address safety concerns, including increasing the presence of police at tourist attractions and improving lighting and CCTV cover.

“We are also investigating the possibility of creating a police unit within the South African police service, so that we are able to make sure that we are protecting our tourists and making sure that all our attractions are safe,” Mahlalela added.

Crime is considered a serious deterrent for tourism in South Africa. According to the most recent national crime statistics, between October and December 2022, the police reported 7 555 murders in the three months, which was 669 more killings than in the preceding quarter. This equated to 82 murders a day, up from 74 a day during the third quarter of 2021.

Questions have been raised recently about the safety of tourists visiting South Africa after German Nick Frischke went missing while hiking on his own. He was last seen on 15 February.

Meanwhile, the department of tourism is endeavouring to revive the industry following the damage done by the pandemic, which saw non-resident visitors slumping from 14.8 million in 2019 to only 3.9 million in 2020.  

As a result of the decline in the number of visitors to the country, inbound tourism expenditure fell by 70.5% in 2020 compared with 2019, according to Statistics South Africa. Domestic tourism expenditure also decreased in 2020, with resident visitors spending 32.8% less than they did in 2019.

Recent statistics suggest the tourism industry is on track to grow. According to the International Air Transport Association, passenger demand continued to rise in February, with revenue passenger kilometres up 55.5% year-on-year — just 15.1% lower than pre-pandemic readings. 

And according to routine data gathered by the department of home affairs, 2 106 923 travellers passed through South Africa during February. This represents a 90.6% year-on-year increase, Investec economist Lara Hodes pointed out in a research note last month.

“Urgently dealing with the country’s numerous challenges, primarily safety and security and load-shedding, is vital to boost traveller numbers even further, growing this essential segment of the economy which has strong links to other key sectors,” Hodes said.

Mahlalela announced that the tourism department plans to spend R300 million in the next financial year to develop and transform the industry.

Tourism contributes about 3.7% to the country’s GDP and, in 2022, 5.7 million tourists visited South Africa. The government hopes to welcome 21 million tourists to the country by 2030 and to boost the industry’s contribution to the economy to 10%.

The journalist is a guest of South African Tourism at Africa’s Travel Indaba