April 27, Freedom Day in South Africa, will start a year of celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of its “democracy and freedom.” At the same time, the country is transforming itself from being known as a “safari destination” to a world-class “lifestyle destination,” according to Marthinus van Schalwyk, speaking to journalists during a visit to New York. Three restaurants from South Africa were part of Elite Traveler’s 2014 Top 100 Restaurants announced yesterday.
The trip was timed with the launch of “Madiba’s Journey,” a tourism attractions route map developed in conjunction with the Nelson Mandela Foundation inspired by the life of the late President of South Africa.
Van Schalwyk said his country continues to outperform competitors in terms of tourism arrivals and shares, and said it remains the only country to see tourism grow after hosting a World Cup. He advised upcoming host Brasil to focus promotional efforts post-event to sustain momentum. He said the global attention helped South Africa open up new markets as well as build travel from traditional markets.
In the case of South Africa he said the international football championship enabled the nation to showcase that it could successfully pull off a major event. He said the infrastructure investment provided modernized highways and airports that give a positive impression to visitors. Ebrahim Rasool, South Africa’s Ambassador to the U.S. joked, “Compared to New York our roads are much better. You can drive with an open coffee cup.” He said, the net result is before arrival visitors “expect less and are delighted the receive so much more.”
While many countries in Africa are seeing an economic boom, the officials described South Africa’s close ties to both Europe and the U.S. as a double-edged sword. While its stability attracts investment, the country has been impacted as Western corporations cut back their workforces after the 2008 recession. Gaining investment continues to be important. The Minister sited the $186 million January purchase of Western-Cape based Portea Hospitality by Marriott International as a vote of confidence. The company operates over 100 hotels with over 10,000 rooms across Africa, with a significant presence in South Africa.