Martin Wiest, CEO of Tourvest Destination Management, attended the recent Satsa Gauteng Chapter AGM as a guest speaker. David Frost, CEO of Satsa, asked him the following questions.

David: What is the outlook for tourism going forward?

Martin: 2017 has been a phenomenal year, however I think this is not due to anything that we as an industry have done right. Rather, we have been a passenger on larger macro factors. Three things that affected South Africa positively were the rapid depreciation of the rand, competitor markets being whipped out such as Turkey, Kenya and Brazil due to terrorism, political unrest and crime, and the perception that South Africa is a safe destination.

While 2016 showed an 18% growth rate, this could be temporary in nature and a bit of a bubble. The international travel market is fickle and this can change quickly. This year was tough and has exposed the difficulties with supporting growth. I don’t want another year like this – it was difficult to find rooms and find staff and I don’t see it necessarily as healthy with the constrained skills and strained infrastructure.

David: If you were made Minister of Tourism, what three things would you do tomorrow morning?

Martin: Developing the perception around tourism as a career is important to ensure a flow of skills to support growth. To develop German-speaking guides, a skill that is in critical need, we went to a German school and offered free training to students. Once trained they would be offered full-time employment, with benefits, for around R20 000 (US$1 430) per month out of school. The training value was about R50 000 (US$3 570). Out of 300 possible candidates only one took up the offer. I believe this is due to tourism not being seen as a career. This needs to change.

There needs to be co-ordination with the Department of Education with regard to improving this and offering education and certification that supports the inbound industry.

Opening up markets through visa regulations and co-ordination with other Southern African countries will enable tourism. South Africa is often sold as a single-destination holiday. The market is looking for multi-destination travel but we still find in brochures that SA is often marketed by itself. Perhaps we need a Schengen-type visa to help this. Air traffic was difficult in the past but now you can link a safari in the Serengeti with a weekend in Cape Town.

David: What about industry transformation?

An untransformed industry is not sustainable. If the Sabi Sand is a playground for the world’s wealthy and only a few people are benefiting from this, why would it not come under threat from neighbouring cattle grazing.

The current focus is developing the black entrepreneur. This mainly focuses on the tours and transfers sector, which is a small part of the industry. There needs to be more inclusion across the industry, not just the entrepreneur. It also makes sense to develop more domestic tourism as a market with great potential but which has poorly developed channels.  International tourism should be seen as the cream, as it is expensive to access, and domestic can be bread-and-butter business. I believe there is a lot of opportunity around domestic tourism growth.

What do you see as the role of an industry association?

Tourism is complex. It’s impossible to expect the government to understand it out of hand. Ministers come and go and haven’t got a tourism background. An association should help with providing guidance.

They need to moderate what the industry is saying. We can’t just be doing what the noisiest people are saying.

Guiding self-administration is an important function rather than waiting for problems to start and leaving it to government to legislate.

Lobbying, education and transformation are all important aspects.