Last year was a fantastic one for tourism in South Africa despite some negative influences that have been widely publicised and need no further comment here and now. However, it has also been a year where bottlenecks that will hinder the sustainable growth of our industry, need addressing and require a substantial investment from many stakeholders. Let me touch on a few that might not be as obvious as building lodges or hotels.

Our industry has not been able to grow the next generation of skilled guides with multiple language ability for several reasons. Whilst guide training providers have been hard at work pushing out English-speaking guides, these are not necessarily always employable in the context of the overall arrival numbers from most source markets, which require specialist language skills.

Guiding is simply not seen as an aspirational job with a golden future and certainly is not seen as a fantastic career by our younger people leaving schools or universities. A concerted effort is needed to change this image, find young dynamic people, train them and give them proper employment with an appropriate financial reward that recognises them for the vital role guides play in the overall experience of our overseas guests.

The industry as we know it is rapidly changing because of the continued growth of digital competitors. It is my view that much of what we do as a business in mainstream channel management can and will be replaced by the online ‘threat’ unless we create our own technology revolution. From a Tourvest Destination Management perspective, most of our technology spend is invested in creating tools for us and our clients to remain relevant into the future in this changed reality and I would think that this is true for most of our colleagues in other DMCs. The complexities of a roundtrip destination as well as a not-so-perfect safety reputation have so far protected us to an extent, but accelerated technology development as well as a changed global macro environment are changing both.  

Having said that, it also means that travel consultants of the future must add materially more knowledge to our clients’ experience than is currently the case, and hence the future consulting role should be a materially different value proposition than is often the case today. The impact on the tertiary education in tourism, learnerships, internships and internal skills development is material and will no doubt become a substantial financial burden on the industry in future.

So from my perspective, let us use the current golden period to reinvest into an even better future – and this can only work if everybody pulls together in a concerted effort. There cannot be a spectator value to some of these fundamentals