A group of lions rest at the Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary near Bethlehem April 26, 2010. REUTERS

Boosted by the soccer World Cup, South Africa saw a record 15.1 percent increase in tourist arrivals in 2010 although the total of more than 8 million was not an all time-high, the tourism minister said on Tuesday.

We are delighted with these strong growth figures, particularly as it comes so soon after a global economic recession, Marthinus van Schalkwyk told journalists.

South Africa was the first African country to host the World Cup, the world's most-watched sports event, and the month-long tournament passed off smoothly despite fears of organisational chaos and high levels of crime.

Van Schalkwyk said the year-on-year growth meant Africa's biggest economy outperformed the global market by more than 8 percent as it registering increases in tourist numbers from all its markets.

Arrivals from central and South America jumped a 109.2 percent as fans from soccer heavyweights Brazil and Argentina flocked across the Atlantic. Europe, the main source of visitors, registered the least rise with 8.1 percent.

Great Britain, the United States, Germany, the Netherlands and France remained the top five overseas source markets, although India, China, Brazil and Nigeria showed considerable growth.

From a tourism perspective we stand to gain tremendously from our recent inclusion in the BRIC partnership and we are aligning our planning and strategies accordingly, Van Schalkwyk said.

A new economic growth path, which aims to create 5 million jobs in South Africa by 2020, has identified tourism as one of six key sectors.

Tourism's contribution to the economy has increased to 7.7 percent in 2010 from less than 5 percent when South Africa held its first democratic elections in 1994 at the end of white-minority apartheid rule.