July 29 2006 at 05:46PM
By Tash Reddy
South Africa is not a safe place to go on holiday - it's official. Major Western countries are warning their clients and citizens that a holiday here could be very dangerous and now international insurance companies are acting as cautionary choruses to prospective tourists.
Norwich Union, an insurance company in the United Kingdom, undertook a survey based on their clients' travel insurance claims and found South Africa to be at the top of the list of countries for serious crime.
The survey said travellers to South Africa were the most likely to suffer violent robberies or lose their belongings in transit. South Africa has been earmarked as the country where tourists' luggage goes missing most often and where the most crimes take place. South Africa was also high on the list for food poisoning and road accidents.
'South Africa was highest for claims made as a result of robbery with violence'
David Ross, senior media relations manager at Norwich Union, said: "We are the UK's largest insurance company. For the first time we looked at the claims we received from our customers and identified which countries and types of claims cropped up most frequently. South Africa was highest for claims made as a result of robbery with violence."
In the past week, the British Foreign Office warned the more than 460 000 Britons who travel to South Africa annually about the high levels of crime in the country, including rape, murder, hijackings, muggings, theft and fraud.
Hillbrow and Berea in Johannesburg are described as high risk, and in Kwazulu-Natal tourists are warned to be vigilant at all times, especially in central Durban and beachfront areas. They are also warned against driving at night when visiting Northern Kwazulu-Natal and Zululand, as there have been incidents of hijackings and robberies, particularly on lonely secondary roads.
Isolated beach and picnic spots are also listed as dangerous, as well as Table Mountain in Cape Town, where some attacks on hikers have been particularly violent.
The Australia Tourist Commission warns its citizens visiting South Africa to maintain high levels of personal security awareness and remain vigilant.
'Maintain high levels of personal security awareness and remain vigilant'
"Robbery, armed assault, theft and pick-pocketing are prevalent, particularly in the centres of Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria.
"Car jackings, muggings, theft and pick-pocketing are common. Murders and rapes involving foreign tourists have been reported," the commission said.
Meanwhile, the US Department of State has informed its American citizens about armed robbery, carjacking, muggings, "smash and grab" attacks on vehicles, and other incidents that are regularly reported.
"South Africa also has the highest incidence of reported rape in the world. Foreigners are not specifically targeted, but several have been the victims of rape.
"A number of Americans have been mugged or violently attacked on commuter and metro trains, especially between Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Several American travellers also reported theft of personal belongings after strangers they invited into their hotels drugged them. In at least one instance, an American died after being drugged and robbed in this manner," the department warned.
The Canadian High Commission warns its citizens of high levels of crimes like armed assault, carjacking, mugging and theft.
However, South African Tourism authorities remain optimistic that the negative publicity or warnings will not deter tourists and will have no impact on the country.
"Tourism has again achieved record-breaking growth, as total foreign arrivals grew by 6,9 percent to 1 616 027 last year, with more than eight million domestic trips taken in the same period.
This represents the fourth successive quarter in which the highest number of foreign arrivals to South Africa has been posted, and it reflects the significance and potential of the domestic travel market.
"The foreign direct spend increased from R8,6-billion to R10,3-billion and we expected to achieve even more impressive figures in the future," said Moeketsi Mosola, CEO of South African Tourism.
This article was originally published on page 1 of The Independent on Saturday on July 29, 2006