Tourism vehicle licensing issues have held South African tour operators hostage, as a backlog in processing keeps many unable to operate their businesses, some for up to two years.

In March of this year, a meeting was held with the Directors-General of the Departments of Tourism and Transport to discuss and resolve transport issues affecting the industry. However, by October, when a Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) Chapter meeting was convened in Gauteng, no changes had been effected.

Satsa Chief Operating Officer, Hannelie Du Toit, subsequently met with the National Public Transport Regulator (NPTR) Director of Public Transport Information Management, Nomsa Mtshwene, to discuss the way forward. She said there had been some movement in applications being processed, although slow.

“We were initially promised [by the NPTR] national authority on operating licences,” comments Du Toit, but this has since changed, she says. “Allocations are now being done based on the strength of the application, so if you are requesting accreditation on a national basis but supply reference letters or documentation relating to Gauteng, then you will only be accredited for that region. Operators must be very careful which areas they are applying for, and we [Satsa] strongly advise them to ensure that their documentation is completed as thoroughly and in as much detail as possible.” The NPTR receives applications by public-service taxis who apply for accreditation under the guise of a tourism service provider, says Du Toit, so the NPTR has to sift through the applications in detail to ensure they are giving accreditation to authentic tourism applicants.

“Satsa will also provide a letter of endorsement, and we have developed some guidelines to assist you in the process of completing your application,” says Du Toit.

Another change that is being effected by the NPTR is that only the owner of a vehicle may apply for an operating licence. This means that, for hired vehicles, the onus rests with the owner to ensure the vehicles are licensed and that licences are up to date.

The NPTR’s Director of Public Transport Information Management, Nomsa Mtshwene, did, however, say that additional staff were being brought in to assist with the backlogs and application processing.

Consequent to this, the licensing issues have been taken to Parliament, where MP and Northern Cape Democratic Alliance representative, Willem Faber, grilled Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom on the backlog of renewals and new applications, and whether he, along with the Minister of Transport [Blade Nzimande], was considering the knock-on effects this was having on the tourism industry, especially with incoming tour operators.

Hanekom responded that the backlog had been addressed with the National Public Transport Regulator at the Department of Transport.

Faber continued, saying that when the Department of Education had a similar problem with scholar transport, in some provinces it was taken over by the Department of Education from the Department of Transport. He queried whether the Department of Tourism wouldn’t similarly be willing to take this function of registration and licensing of tourism vehicles under its own department.

Hanekom responded: “Your point is well taken, but it is the legislation, and there is a Minister responsible for that legislation. Therefore, as it currently stands, it is the responsibility of that Minister. Having said that, in our meetings with the industry leaders this matter has come [at an appropriate time], and at our last meeting with what we call the ‘Tourism Leadership Forum’, the Deputy Minister undertook to me with her counterpart in the Department of Transport. I will follow it up.”

Hanekom continued that a one-on-one meeting with Nzimande was overdue, and he would set up a meeting with him to have a “frank discussion about some of the challenges that we are experiencing. I believe that this needs to be elevated because there are a number of challenges. I’m aware of them, and I will make these undertakings – and next time when I come here you can say ‘but on this day [October 31] you said that you would meet the Minister of Transport’. I will meet with the Minister of Transport.”