SATSA has obtained legal advice as the Operating Licence “debacle” – by which hundreds of tours operators are experiencing massive delays in obtaining their licenses though National Public Transport Regulator (NPTR) – continues to severely hamper the tourism industry in South Africa.

“Given the protracted and stalled process over the past three years, and having exhausted all possible avenues, SATSA obtained an initial legal opinion which indicates that a case could be made,” said Hannelie du Toit, chief operating officer of Satsa.

She highlighted that “very little progress” had been made during the year despite the National Department of Tourism hosting workshops which resulted in a summary of industry concerns being submitted to NPTR.

Du Toit told Tourism Update (TU) that NPTR had simply stated that there was “no crisis” in relation to the SATSA submission. Attempts by TU to reach the NPTR and the Department of Transport (the governing body of NTPR) went unanswered.

Despite NPTR’s seemingly sanguine attitude, there are literally hundreds of operators, according to du Toit, who are “bleeding” in the face of this.

Owner of the East London-based  Imonti Tours, Velile Ndlumbini, told TU he was facing the prospect of closing his business after 16 years of operation. “I applied for a renewal of my tour operator’s licence in January this year. I simultaneously applied for a new licence for another vehicle. Nine months later, I am still waiting.” His operating licence expired in March this year.

Ndlumbini said the issues began when the issuing of operating licenses began when a new regulation requiring all operators to apply in Pretoria and not via their provincial offices as they had been doing previously.

“I was dealing with a lady there who left and then I had to start from scratch and each time I fill in forms and obtain the necessary documentation, the goalposts change and I am chasing my tail and getting caught up in red tape,” he related.

Meanwhile, although he has forward bookings right into the middle of next year, it is illegal for any Imonti Tours vehicles to be on the road. He also has commitments to operators in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town which he is struggling to meet.

“Almost 90% of my business is international tourists from cruise ships and often I will have an agreement with other provincial operators to serve other legs of the journey. What happens to them, and my ongoing relationship with them if I cannot meet my obligations?”

In desperation, Ndlumbini says he has struck deals with local taxi operators but the safety and luxury standards set by Imonti Tours are often not met. “The taxi drivers are often late picking up guests, they don’t have air conditioning etc. All this affects my reputation as a business owner.”

He added that he was facing a situation where he may not be able to pay his staff at the end of the month. “If we don’t operate, we don’t earn. If we don’t earn, we can’t pay staff.”

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