Durban is predicted to be the fastest-growing tourism city in Africa this year, and one of the fastest-growing tourism destinations in the world, according to research by global credit card payments and technology giant MasterCard.

The MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index, which was published on Monday, forecast that Durban’s tourism market would grow fastest in terms of both visitor numbers and expenditure on the continent. It also predicted Durban would be the second-fastest growing tourism city of the 132 cities surveyed worldwide as part of the study.

MasterCard projected a 33.3 percent growth rate in the number of international visitors and 41.3 percent growth rate in visitor expenditure in 2012. However, it said this tourism growth was “off a low base”. The study represents a major vote of confidence in Durban’s tourism growth and comes in the wake of Durban also being named by CNN as one of the 10 most underrated cities in the world.

The research showed that, despite a downbeat global economy, tourism to cities in emerging market economies such as SA would grow faster.

Durban, Joburg and Cape Town were among 13 African cities included in the index.

MasterCard projected that Joburg would attract higher spending from tourists than any other city in Africa this year. This was despite Cairo being the most-visited city in Africa with 3.3 million international visitors, ahead of Joburg at 2.5 million visitors.

Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, global the economic adviser for MasterCard Worldwide and the author of the report, said that while cities in Europe and the US were still ranked highly on the index, emerging market cites in Asia and Africa were showing strong growth.

“This kind of growth pattern strongly suggests that destination cities in emerging markets in Africa will also continue to grow in importance in the global economy… The growth patterns show how important cities are, and they’re popping up from everywhere. They take on some really important local or regional significance overnight because of a new development,” he said.

The global index, which encompasses 132 of the world’s most important cities, is being marketed as a new map for understanding global connectivity. It was compiled mostly using flight schedules from 87 airlines to estimate actual passenger departures and forecast departures for the year. It also used information from national tourism boards, the UN and other global agencies.

“This is the second instalment of the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index, which is used as a barometer for understanding the global economy and the dynamic flow of commerce across the world,” said Dries Zietsman, the country manager of MasterCard Worldwide in SA.

“Supporting MasterCard’s growth predictions for Durban is the fact that Emirates Airlines has reaffirmed its confidence in Durban as a leading SA tourist destination.

“It has increased its capacity on its Dubai-Durban route by 30 percent from June 2012 in direct response to increasing passenger demand on this route from the Middle and Far East, China and Dubai.” – The Mercury

By Suren Naidoo and Reuters