Often, we in the South African tourism sector – and any other sector, for that matter – have a tendency to complain. Whether it’s visa regulations, crime, the economic downturn or the whims of nature that affect the business of tourism – these are bugbears beyond our control, and it understandably frustrates us that we can’t do anything about them.

But our new president’s recent “send me” rallying call got me thinking: What if we as individuals could do more to, in the late Bra Hugh Masekela’s words, “turn it around”? What if we were to alter our mindsets to become the agents of change, instead of the reactors to change? How can we take “send me” and bring it home to tourism?

It’s a simple choice we have to make between being active leaders and passive followers. How can we transform our tourism industry into the one we envisage in our dreams? As Walt Disney said, if you can dream it, you can do it – and he turned a cartoon mouse into a global phenomenon.

President Cyril Ramaphosa couldn’t have picked a more rousing rallying call to galvanise a downcast nation into energetic, even euphoric action. Now it’s up to us as the tourism industry to heed his call and pick up the cudgels to, quite literally, be the change we want to see. At face value, the president’s vision may seem a utopian one – to double the value and size of the tourism industry – but, to quote another great, our very own Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

None of us can do it alone, nor can we be expected to suddenly conjure prosperity out of lofty intentions. Fortunately, President Ramaphosa’s call to action was backed by a clearly stated promise to bolster support for destination marketing while slicing away the red tape impeding the growth of our industry. He also pledged improved infrastructure and better support for small businesses and, equally importantly, to cultivate an environment that is ripe for investment.

All of this is good news for tourism, because people are irresistibly drawn to a country that is not just endowed with natural beauty, but that radiates a sense of optimism too. And, indeed, the overwhelming sentiment in South Africa at the moment is that we’re a country on the move.

I’d like to invite our tourism industry to join me in using our president’s words as the impetus and the inspiration for our own proactive deeds. Let’s pledge to collectively make our industry not just good, not just great, but one that’s admired the world over and held up as a case study of how to cultivate a progressive, sustainable, inclusive and flourishing tourism economy.

If tourism is to become the jewel in the crown of the South African economy, we need the buy-in of not just the industry but of all South Africans. In fact, this is exactly what we are striving to achieve with our We Do Tourism movement – create a buzz, a sense of pride and ownership, among all our fellow citizens as integral players and active participants in our broader tourism family. We as the industry are just the custodians.

As we reflect on another successful Meetings Africa trade show, where we saw a robust and lively exchange of ideas as the world converged on Johannesburg to sample the continent’s ample business events offerings, we are now looking forward to our rebranded and refreshed Africa’s Travel Indaba, which takes place in Durban in May.

This represents the perfect opportunity for those of us playing in the tourism space in both the public and the private sectors to step up to the plate and heed the president’s call. Your “send me” moment could be by mentoring a young tourism entrepreneur or start-up in your area, or by offering your buying power to a small business to give them the benefit of economies of scale. It could be by assisting emerging tourism trailblazers with the crafting of business plans or product development, or helping with market research.

If you are a potential exhibitor, buyer or other travel industry professional, you can also throw your weight behind the “send me” movement by pledging your support to Africa’s Travel Indaba, our continent’s largest and most influential tourism trade show.

Having you on board will help us turn words and ideas into concrete action that will grow, diversify and progress the industry. No matter what your past experience of trade shows may be, we invite you to come to Durban and ride the wave of optimism with us – and be part of the change. If we come together as an industry, we can make a huge difference to tourism in South Africa and in Africa. By seizing the moment to become go-getting change agents ourselves, we can in turn help empower, equip and encourage others to change their lives for the better.

The private sector has already demonstrated its buy-in, for example by teaming up with us to mentor and showcase some of our country’s Hidden Gems – glittering small tourism businesses from all nine provinces. But we know we all need to do more. We need your support, your commitment and your buy-in to craft the kind of tourism-enriched society we’d like to see.

Let’s not be intimidated by the obstacles and hurdles in our path. Let’s rather look at the possibilities. The power is in our own hands to cultivate a fertile environment in which tourism can grow beyond its current levels – we just have to believe in ourselves, our product and our ability to woo and wow the world. Let’s heed the call – Thuma Mina!

 

  • Sisa Ntshona is the Chief Executive Officer of South African Tourism. Africa’s Travel Indaba, now in its 37th year, will see some 7 000 tourism professionals from around the world converge on Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre from May 8-10, under the banner, Africa’s Stories, Your Success. Visit www.indaba-southafrica.co.za.