THE wave of the economic downturn sweeping through the world has hit the tourism industry in KwaZulu-Natal hard, with the number of tourists visiting the province declining dramatically.
This was said by MEC for economic development and tourism Mike Mabuyakhulu.
He was speaking at the Women in Tourism Summit in Port Shepstone this week.
The aim of the summit was to look at ways of empowering women in the tourism industry.
Mabuyakhulu said that in the last few decades the tourism industry had undergone explosive growth. As a labour intensive industry there had consequently been rapid job creation and development.
"In South Africa tourism has entrenched itself as a growth economic sector, which has contributed R83,1billion to the country's GDP.
"In the 2008-09 financial year it is estimated that KwaZulu-Natal generated more than R18,3billion in direct contribution to the economy and more than R26billion indirectly to the economy.
"At least 83000 direct jobs and 167400 indirect jobs were created during that period.
"Tourism can play an even more significant role if the industry's potential is unlocked, with targeted interventions to enhance women's participation in the mainstream tourism activities," he said.
But Mabuyakhulu noted that the tourism industry in the province had been adversely affected by the economic turmoil.
"The tourism industry in KwaZulu-Natal has not been immune as the global economic recession is beginning to have a significant impact.
"The direct international arrivals in South Africa are at minus 10percent compared with the same period last year.
"This has a directly negative bearing on tourism in KwaZulu-Natal as we derive market share from these international arrivals.
"If we use Durban as a benchmark for the province, you will realise that hotel occupancy rates are at 62,3percent compared with 67,3percent during the same period last year," he said.
Mabuyakhulu said in order for the province to hold its own in the global tourism industry, there was a need to improve on service excellence.