04 January 2005

SA might benefit from tsunamis

Johannesburg - South Africa's tourism industry is likely to reap some benefits in the aftermath of devastating tsunamis, or giant waves, in Asia that hit many resort areas hard, officials said on Monday.
"Southeast Asia is a serious competitor for South African tourists. We are quite sure there will be some kind of boost to South Africa," said Ian Hay, financial director of Tourvest, the largest South African tourism company listed on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange.

"Unfortunately, one man's meat is another man's poison," Hay added.

The death toll from the Indian Ocean quake and subsequent tidal waves last Sunday has surpassed 144 000 and included hundreds of foreign tourists visiting exotic islands off Thailand.

South African Tourism spokesperson Liz Sheridan did not want to make a forecast "based on other people's misfortune", but acknowledged that disaster elsewhere could attract tourists to South Africa.

She said following the September 11 attacks in the United States, South Africa was among few countries that experienced double-digit growth in tourism.

"Certainly, there was immediate growth after 9/11," she said but added other factors such as a weak currency was another major drawcard at that time.

Visitors to SA 'static'
"Thailand is certainly one of our main competitors," Sheridan added.

Hay however warned that the benefits reaped would be temporary.

"There's a possible temporary advantage to be gained, but the Asian countries will get their act together. If you look at the Asian currency crisis and (the respiratory illness) Sars, they bounced back very strongly from that.

"We won't gain a permanent market share out of this. Once they have recovered, they will come back fighting strong. I think we will see some very, very attractively priced packages in about six month's time," Hay said.

Tourism is one of South Africa's largest job creators, and contributes 7% to the gross domestic product. But a dramatic strengthening of the rand in the past year has put on a damper on the growth of the sector.

Recent figures released by the government statistics agency showed the number of visitors to South Africa had remained largely static in the past year, mainly because the local currency gained a record 18% in value against the dollar, making it the second-strongest performer in the world.


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