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Spatial trends in tourism within South Africa: The expected and the surprising

David H. McKelly
Christian M. Rogerson
Elsona van Huysteen
Johan Maritz
Mawande Ngidi


Several researchers have highlighted the spatial imbalances of the tourism sector in South Africa. It has been noted that this sector is highly concentrated spatially in terms of its distribution and in relation to its potential local impacts across the country. Although it is broadly understood that the tourism sector is geographically uneven, the lack of sector comparative data at municipal level may inhibit the wide spread use of geographically comparative analyses of the contribution of the various dimensions of tourism in the South African space economy.

The aim of this paper is to provide an indication of the value of such comparative analyses of the spatial trends and impacts of the tourism sector in local economies in South Africa. The discussion of the tourism space economy is based on an analysis of a local tourism database which contains details of the tourism performance of all local authorities in the country focussing on the period from 2001 to 2011.

Whilst the study confirms the important role of metropolitan areas, secondary and coastal cities and typical tourism destinations in the tourism space economy, it also highlights the significance of some local places/economies that are not traditionally associated with tourism, as well as illustrating the significance of tourism spend in the local economies of a range of municipalities that might not be part of the ‘top’ tourist destinations in South Africa.

Keywords: Spatial tourism trends, South Africa, space economy, tourism in local economy, trip purpose

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eISSN: 2225-8531