Travel and tourism play a vital role in growing the economy and creating jobs. According to Statistics South Africa (StatsSA), South Africa has 16.2m workers, and tourism directly employs 4.5% (726 500 jobs) of this total workforce.

Tourism created more jobs than manufacturing and mining between 2014 and 2017. It is critical that the industry is protected from forces that could impede its growth and sustainability.

In 2017, travel and tourism contributed R412bn (€291m) to SA’s GDP, and its direct and indirect contribution to employment is 1 530 500 jobs, according to World Travel and Tourism Council. This is a sector that government must fully embrace, and nurture its growth with the intent to further contribute to the economy and employment.

The tourism sector created 31 752 nett new jobs (total jobs created within the sector less jobs that disappeared) in 2017. This is the greatest number of nett new jobs generated by tourism within a year in at least the last eight years. This also represents the second year of employment growth after the sector saw a nett loss of 12 262 jobs in 2015. This highlights the strength of the industry and why it is imperative to build and strengthen the sector in a country that is suffering a significantly high unemployment rate.

To realise the full potential of the tourism industry’s impact on the economy and job creation, the departure point must be the urgent removal of regulatory barriers that are impacting growth. This includes immigration regulations, national public transport regulations, and sharing economy concerns.

President Cyril Ramaphosa recognised tourism as one of the key sectors in stimulating the economy and creating jobs. In his inauguration speech, he said tourism was an area that provides our country with incredible opportunities to, “quite literally, shine”. He acknowledged that the industry was performing better than most other growth sectors and that there was no reason why it couldn’t double in size.

However, this sentiment is yet to translate into the industry itself. The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) believes that government policy is a crucial area that can make or break the industry. Being sensitive to socio-political developments, the tourism industry can struggle to be profitable and sustainable if these developments are not in its favour, as was proven by government’s decision that travelling minors had to carry an unabridged birth certificate, without consulting the sector.

This regulation continues to have a significantly negative impact on tourism as South Africa is perceived as an unfriendly family travel destination. The recent amendment of the regulation still has not inspired confidence in airlines, tour operators, and travel agents to promote South Africa in their offering. The statistics show that key markets’ arrivals are stagnant and the industry forward bookings have not improved.

Travel and tourism is a low-hanging fruit that can stimulate the economy and create more jobs. Unlike many industries that need the building of factories and buying of equipment, and many other capital expenditures, tourism is about our culture, food, wildlife, iconic mountains, breath-taking scenery, our cities and, most importantly, who we are. We already have tourism infrastructure that surpasses many competitors.

To boost the economy and create jobs, the TBCSA suggests that the following actions must be taken urgently by government in consultation with the industry:

  1. Urgent introduction of online visa application with fast turnaround time
  2. Urgent granting of visa waivers to more countries
  3. Suspending the confusing travel requirement for minors to promote family travel

We have seen many countries around the world that have introduced these systems, granting visa waivers and simplifying immigration, which have significantly grown their tourist arrivals. These measures will go a long way in increasing tourist arrivals. When we implement these suggestions, we could increase arrivals by 6% every year where we could see 14.5m arrivals in 2014 and possibly 21m arrivals in 2030. This will have a significant impact on job creation in a country that has a high unemployment rate.