Chairperson, that is very kind of you. I might need the three minutes to deal with all the issues that hon members raised.
First of all, I would like to thank all hon members who participated in this debate for their support and also the support from all the political parties represented in this House. I would like to deal with a number of issues related to the Tourism Indaba, which were raised by hon Farrow and hon Bam-Mugwanya, the issue of the accommodation sector, the airline sector, the 2020 targets that hon Sayedali Shah raised, the carbon footprint, the e-visa issues that hon Lesoma raised, the points about culture and heritage tourism that hon Bhengu raised, and also the Lilizela National Tourism Awards.
I know that our parliamentary Rules do not allow referring to specific members in the gallery, although some people actually do it, but I would like to just point to the officials' gallery. The officials who are here from both the department and SA Tourism look a little jaded, because they had to catch early flights to be here this morning. As you heard, it is the last day of the indaba, but they had to be present here.
Let me start off by saying that in our department we have three requirements for people who serve in senior leadership positions. Firstly, they must know our industry, and they must know it well. Secondly, they must be willing and able to work hard and not be clock-watchers. Thirdly, we don't tolerate any corruption in our department, none whatsoever. [Applause.] That is why, since our team took over, for the last eight or nine years, SA Tourism has received clean audits, year after year. In the national department, when I was part of the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, and even now, the department has received clean audits year after year. Those are the people that we would like to thank. [Applause.]
Let me start with the indaba. Saturday night at the opening event, I said that we need to modernise and expand the indaba. At this moment, the indaba is still the top travel and tourism show, a great platform on the African continent. However, out there, there is a lot of competition, and the world is changing.
The hon Farrow said that we should bring new life to the indaba as there are fewer buyers. Let us just remember what is happening in the world. All trade platforms are under pressure, because of all the changes taking place - the Internet and new social media. People are looking at new ways to find out about products, so we are not only up against competition from other trade platforms but also the new media. That is what we have to deal with. Now, I am absolutely convinced that if we make some decisive changes, the indaba will continue to be, by far, not only the biggest trade platform on the African continent for tourism but also one of the three or four biggest in the world. Our vision, as the department and government, is that a few years from now, we want every African country to be at the indaba. We want more buyers - international buyers and South African buyers.
Let me just deal with something upfront. I know full well that there is a part of our industry that feels threatened by this, because they feel that this is a South African trade platform and that we shouldn't allow other people in as they are our competition. I am a firm believer that competition is good for all of us. If there are better quality products on the African continent, well, then we must compete with that. It will force us to lift our game.
On the African continent, we should stop resenting each other's success. We should really feed off of each other's success. [Applause.] If we want to be number one on this continent as a country, in terms of our tourism growth, we must not be afraid of competition. That is why we refer to "co- opetition". It is competition but also co-operation. So, that is what we would like to do with the indaba, and I am convinced we will achieve just that.
As regards the arrival figures, let me say that I appreciate all the comments made, but I want to take colleagues back a few years. After the Fifa Soccer World Cup tournament, people wondered what we would do. At that time, we would have been in real trouble. Remember, after all the mega events that other countries hosted, they experienced a slump in tourism, but I assured this House and said that we had strategies in place and that we would do well. I must admit that I knew we were under pressure. As colleagues can now see, we continued to grow year after year, even after the Fifa Soccer World Cup. That is because, six months before the Fifa Soccer World Cup, we had our strategies in place, and when the Soccer World Cup caravan - Fifa - left this country, our new strategies kicked in. Now we can look back and say that, indeed, we have planned well.
Even as we congratulate ourselves with the good arrival figures, let's look at other indicators as well and say to ourselves that when things are going well, one should always remember that there are new challenges and old challenges which we still have to deal with. Looking at spend, we see it is up from Asia, Europe and the Americas, but from Africa it is marginally down. Looking at a very important indicator, length of stay, we see it is down from just over eight days to just more than seven days. This is because the new international trend is for people to travel closer to home and for shorter periods of time. As a long-haul destination, we should understand that it is not only about the number of people arriving here; it is how much they spend and how long they stay. In this regard, our performance over the past year will be very difficult to repeat year after year, but we must accept the challenge.
I now come to the accommodation sector. I know that two or three years ago the accommodation sector in this country was very pessimistic, because many new hotels were built for the Fifa Soccer World Cup. Colleagues, you can remember in this House and out in public, I issued a warning and said we understood that investments are long-term decisions. I also said that I was worried that we might not be able to fill up all the new hotel rooms over the short term. People said that we, as government, must provide guidance. My response was that government cannot guide this kind of long-term investment decisions. That is not what we are supposed to do. We will support, and we will be there to help them fill up the hotels, because we are part of one industry.
I must say that it is turning around. From a year or two ago, when we had a 50% hotel occupation rate, we are up to 60%. So, it is getting better. There may be some local areas where there is still a lower than 60% occupation rate, but generally speaking, we are catching up, and we are doing much better. That actually proves the point from the investors' side, namely that they took long-term decisions that will now give them a good return on their money.
Our sector is joined at the hip to the airline or aviation sector. I know that we have the Department of Transport responsible for some areas of transport and we have the Department of Public Enterprises responsible for the national airline. It is with that qualification that I would like to make some of my remarks.
What we want, as the tourism sector, is more competition on routes, not only international routes but also domestic routes. It will drive down prices and increase standards. That is our view. That is why we will support all efforts to achieve just that. We serve on the committee of the Department of Transport that is responsible for landing slots. That is our approach, together with our colleagues. Let me just say that it is also a government view. The new airline policy will come to Cabinet soon, and all of us are working together to ensure that we keep our aviation industry competitive, because we understand the challenge.
Let me turn to SA Airways, our national carrier, to which hon Farrow also referred. My view, and that of our department, is that we need a national carrier in this country. I know that there are some people and some political parties who argue that everything should simply be privatised. Let's be rational about this. I think we need a well-managed and well- funded national carrier. Sometimes when colleagues argue this case - sometimes I listen in Parliament - they compare us with other medium-sized airlines that operate under totally different circumstances. We are not an international hub. We are an end-of-route operator here. It is quite different, colleagues. So, even if it may go well and we may have many airlines flying here, we have a vulnerability that we should never forget. Then, of course, we should have a well-managed, well-run national airline.
Over the years, I must admit, I have been very critical of our national airline, but let me say that under the leadership of the previous chief executive officer, Siza Mzimela, it started to change. I want to give her credit. The acting chief executive officer, Mr Nico Bezuidenhout, changed it even further. I want to congratulate the new chief executive officer, Monwabisi Kalawe. We hope that he will be able to implement that turnaround strategy. Cabinet must still receive the final turnaround strategy. It is already with the Department of Public Enterprises, but the first signs are that some of those decisions are exactly what we want: to ensure that we have a national carrier that will be competitive internationally and that will be well run.
From 2 to 4 June we as a country will be hosting the International Air Travel Association, Iata, here in Cape Town. It is their global summit, and the chief executive officers from airlines all over the world will be here to attend - all the key stakeholders. It is a very important event. I would like to invite colleagues and urge them to attend and liaise with the people there, because it is an exciting industry, and many changes are taking place.
By way of implication, hon Gumede referred to the growing carbon footprint issue, and hon Lesoma also referred to it. It is a reality. I know there are some people in the environmental field that argue that people should be told that they shouldn't travel as much because it is bad owing to greenhouse gases. Do you know what? Only a small percentage of people will listen to that message. Hon Sayedali Shah referred to one billion people who travelled last year as tourists. In just a few years from now, that figure will grow exponentially to 1,7 billion. People will not travel less. So, what should we do? Aircraft design is very important. Air traffic management for the shortest routes is very important. The big game changer will be alternative fuels - biofuels.
There is a role for governments to play, and we must never forget that. In this phase of research, we cannot just leave it to the private sector. For the accommodation sector, it is about green building design, retrofitting, alternative sources of energy, waste management, but our industry must come to the table to ensure that we become a much more environmentally friendly sector. Certainly, there are good signs in our industry that an increasing number of people understand that message.
With regard to e-visas I want to convey to the House how our sector will change over the coming years. In a few years from now, instead of going to all the embassies, standing in queues, going for a personal interview, and going back, we will simply apply online for a visa. Australia has become the first country to introduce the e-visa. I have to congratulate them. It is a good development. It took courage, but it is the right thing to do. Many of us, over the next few years, will follow that route. In a few years from now, we will get our final visa on our mobile phones. When we check in at hotels, we will no longer check in downstairs. Everything will be done on our mobile phones, and we will go up to the second and third floors, unlock our doors, and enter our hotel rooms. We will also be able to set the air conditioning an hour or two before we arrive in our rooms. If our flights are delayed, there will be automatic rebookings of all our connecting flights. That is how our world will change.
We have won the debate on e-visas. The technology is already there. Logistically, it is a huge improvement. We must still win the security argument, and we are engaging our security colleagues. However, as I stand here, I am convinced that it is much more safe and secure to use e-visa instead of the present manual system. Let's continue with that work in government, and I am quite sure that we will get there.
Coming to the issue of the national tourism awards, on Saturday at the indaba we announced - and I would like to thank all the hon members who attended it, as the trade appreciated your presence there, and I certainly did - that in September we will have the first national tourism awards. Up to now, we had different award systems run by different organisations. We will now consolidate that, but just remember that it is not about people getting a cash prize. The rationale behind the awards is to improve the standards in our industry, to give recognition to excellence, and to create role models that young people can look up to. That is what we would like to achieve. The nominations are already open. I would like to encourage you to look at that, to nominate people, and to encourage other people to make nominations.
In September we will have awards in five categories, ranging from service excellence to responsible and sustainable tourism to special ministerial awards that will recognise individuals and companies that play a decisive role in assisting us to reach the 2020 targets, both in South Africa and internationally. Please help us to make the new Lilizela National Tourism Awards a success.
I have one issue outstanding - hon Bhengu's issue on culture and heritage tourism and the 2020 targets. Let me just say, Chairperson, we are on course to achieve our 2020 targets, and I appreciate the support from members and from all parties. Thank you. [Time expired.] [Applause.]