Tourism Minister Martinus van Schalkwyk says that the industry is on the cusp of revolutionary changes over the next few years. He was speaking at the fifth annual Ubuntu Awards in New York, recognizing outstanding trade partners in leisure and business travel to South Africa but also celebrating the country’s 20th year of democracy.
The gala event also honoured actor – activists Alfre Woodard and Blair Underwood as founding members of the Artists for a New South Africa – an organization formed in 1989 to galvanize public opinion and raise funds to demolish apartheid and assist the country during its transition.
It was an event to honour those trade partners who have been telling South Africa’s good story for the last 20 years. In 1994 the country had 3 million arrivals, last year 13 million, and ten million of those were tourists.
“For this market in terms of the expansion of product, we were known as a Safari destination. Now we are known as a destination for lifestyle products, adventure tourism, good 20 years for us,” says Van Schalkwyk.
US Trade partners were honoured as top producers in various categories and those offering best value for money packages to the country.
But the recent Malaysian Airlines tragedy was not ignored. “Aviation in future will be driven by not outdated technology, it should be driven by the latest technology, no longer outdates radar but the latest GPS technology so that we know every second of the day where who is in our industry traveling, when they trust us with their safety,” says the minister.
On a day when the image and legacy of former President Nelson Mandela loomed large, there were musical tributes by the evergreen Jonathan Butler.
The Friends of South Africa Award went to ANSA for recognizing the role artists could play in fighting apartheid and subsequently for work in combating HIV and Aids in the country.
Blair Underwood of 1980s legal drama LA Law fame accepted the award. “Never do you do things in service of others for rewards; you do it because it’s the right thing to do,” says Underwood.
The Emmy award-winning Oscar nominated Alfre Woodard says their organization was able to play a small part in the country’s history.
“The demands have been great but the rewards have been much greater. We have been blessed to have witness many miraculous moments, to see Madiba walk out of prison free and unbowed, to watch people of every colour and creed and tongue together in long lines casting their votes, to witness a land once enslaved and isolated by apartheid, rise up and adopt the world’s most progressive constitution, to watch gardens grow in shanty towns where residents once feared relocation by the bulldozer, to watch women, men and children, once denied their rights living as free and equal partners,”says the Woodard.
Speaking privately to SABC News, Alfre opened up a bit more about her shifting perspective on South Africa after Madiba’s release in 1990. “That’s when everybody started coming to SA and they saw it and they went…ooooh…. you can’t believe it! God just took the wrapper off this place, and you have to go. And once you arrived, the people are like ok.
“The people on the land are the most amazing draw to me and our Madiba from the beginning looked across at us. Yes, we would look up and he would say look across to me and he inspired and demanded of you what was best and right in a moment. Yes with humour, loving to celebrate and party but for all of us he was not an icon. It’s great that the world and history will record him, but all of us who touched him including people in this room, that know that he was a great brother, he was a great partner,” Woodard explains.
SA Tourism continues to recognize the United States as a key market for continued growth. And, as our correspondent reports, with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars in their corner, it’s a prospect that will surely gain that much more traction.