South Africa’s tourism industry remains resilient although there are tough times ahead, says Minister of Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

“Our tourism sector has proved to be more resilient than some other economic sectors, but we are not immune to the effects of the economic crisis,” said Mr van Schalkwyk, delivering his department’s Budget Vote in Parliament on Thursday.

He warned that difficult times for the industry, which employs more than a million people, may be lying ahead.

“Some of the impact will only become more visible in the next few months as the full consequences of the global economic meltdown trickles down,” he said.

Although South Africa has thus far been spared from the worst impact and has remained in positive territory until the end of 2008, the country cannot afford to be complacent and can not ignore the looming slow downward trend in 2009 as many primary markets remain in recession.

“There is clearly no denying that the marketplace for tourism today looks dramatically different to a year ago. Although this sector is not as hard hit as some others, demand is down and for many the times are tough,” said Minister van Schalkwyk.

He further said provisional figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation indicated a decline of 8 percent in international arrivals for the first two months of 2009.

By year end, the best case scenario would seem to be stagnation, with more realistic forecasts predicting a decline of at least 2 percent.

“Fortunately, in the face of these challenges, we understand the importance of planning better and getting the fundamentals right,” the minister added.

Mr van Schalkwyk said the first challenge would be to build greater resilience against future external economic shocks. This will include building strong domestic and regional markets.

“We will build on our stringent quality control regime that ensures value for money and the unique selling points of our natural heritage,” Mr Van Schalkwyk said.