Tourism: employment, economy and foreign income

Much has been said about the importance of tourism, particularly of its role in economic growth, employment and attracting foreign exchange. The latest Tourism Satellite Account for South Africa report provides indicators of tourism’s role in these three spheres. Time series for much of the data are now available (10 years).


Tourism as a source of employment

In 2005, 475 664 individuals were directly employed in the tourism sector, rising by 205 153 to 680 817 individuals in 2014.

Comparable employment data from 2008 show that tourism added more jobs to the economy than other industries such as trade, agriculture and manufacturing. Other industries fared better than tourism, such as community and social services, finance, and mining.


Of the total employed in South Africa, including both formal and informal sectors, 1 in 25 individuals work in the tourism sector. To be more precise, 4,5% of the total workforce were directly employed in the sector during 2014. This is an increase from the 3,8% recorded for 2005.


Tourism as a source of economic growth

In 2014, tourism contributed 3,0% to the South African economy, higher than agriculture (2,5%) but smaller than all other industries. Tourism’s contribution of 3,0% is only slightly smaller than the 3,1% recorded for 2005.



Tourism as a source of foreign income

Tourists spend money, and attracting foreign exchange via inbound tourism is an attractive goal for any country. Money is brought into the country by foreign visitors, and money is taken out by local citizens visiting foreign destinations as tourists. The difference between these two, between inbound tourism expenditure and outbound tourism expenditure, is known as the tourism trade balance with the rest of the world.

South Africa’s tourism trade balance with the rest of the world has remained positive since 2005, i.e. more foreign exchange has been earned than what has been lost due to tourism.

Despite remaining positive, the trade balance decreased from R23 778 million in 2007 to R9 970 million in 2010, after which it rose again to R38 311 million in 2014.


Access the Tourism Satellite Account for South Africa download page here.

Visit the Labour Market Dynamics archive here.

Download the Gross domestic product (GDP), 4th quarter 2014 release here.