According to one survey, Marthinus van Schalkwyk said in a speech to tourism industry leaders, about one-third of potential tourists had mentioned fears about safety as one reason for not visiting South Africa in the past five years.
"Crime is an issue we as industry have to deal with if we want to reach our target of 10 million arrivals by 2010," van Schalkwyk said.
Tourism is booming in South Africa, thanks to its stunning beaches and scenery, prolific wildlife, rich cultural heritage and low prices. In 2006 the number of visitors shot up by one million to 8.4 million and the government is upbeat about smashing its target of 10 million by the time South Africa hosts soccer's World Cup in 2010.
Business tourism is also thriving, with Cape Town in particular emerging as a popular venue for conferences.
But crime is also rising, as evidenced by recently released statistics which showed an increase in the number of murders, violent robberies and carjackings.
Relatively few foreign tourists were among the 19,202 people murdered last year; although police figures do not give any breakdown. However foreign visitors, with their expensive cameras and bulging wallets, are easy prey for muggers.
Van Schalkwyk said he was pressing for a separate breakdown in the annual crime statistics of crimes against tourists.
"This can assist in dealing with perceptions that the country may not be safe for tourists," he said.
The government has promised to increase spending on security and boost police numbers from the current 152,000 to 190,000 by 2010 and insists that soccer fans flooding in for the World Cup will be safe.
Van Schalkwyk said his department was working with police on a new Tourism Safety and Awareness strategy. Tourist industry representatives had also started giving police information on activities, routes and events, he said.
He said authorities were considering having a designated officer in every police station to dealing with tourism crime-related issues. The long term aim was to establish Tourism Ambassador Units in police stations, he said.