Tourism, narrowly defined, currently contributes 2.9% to our GDP and supports 726 000 jobs in this country. When the impact of the industry’s supply chain linkages and total value creation in the economy are taken into account, this increases to 8.6% of GDP and 1.5 million jobs, or 9.2% of all employment in the South African economy.

Some 10.5 million international tourists visited South Africa in 2018, and StatsSA indicate that 6.5 million South African adults travelled for leisure purposes as domestic tourists in 2017.

The Public-Private Growth Initiative and Tourism Business Council’s Tourism Growth Strategy developed in late 2018, indicates that, given the right enabling environment, these numbers can grow to:

  • 21 million international tourist arrivals – double the current number
  • 3.5 million more domestic leisure travellers – more than double the current number with growth of 54%
  • 1.7 million direct jobs – 132% growth in tourism jobs
  • 3.5 million jobs in total throughout the economy – also 132% growth in the labour force dependent on tourism

The first two guiding principles of the 1996 Tourism White Paper, which remain relevant, stated that:

  • Tourism will be private-sector driven
  • Government will provide the enabling framework for the industry to flourish

Based on my involvement in research and strategic development plans for the tourism sector through many years, the following are critical for the sustained development and inclusive growth of tourism.

1. Drive inclusive growth of a sustainable and responsible tourism industry and, in so doing, address transformation and ensure benefits flow to communities.

2. Drive growth in higher spending international tourism markets to South Africa, from traditional markets and from important new high-growth markets, including those on our continent.

3. Drive growth of domestic leisure tourism, ensuring that quality of life and pride in our heritage and national assets are enjoyed by most South Africans through travel experiences in our beautiful country. Tourism must be an activity for all South Africans. The industry must address transformation in its customer base as much as in the business side of the industry.

4. Drive other key tourism sub-sectors, particularly business event tourism.

5. Drive tourism through working collaboratively with the private sector, partnering with South African Tourism, the Department of Tourism, the Provincial Tourism Authorities and Departments, and with Municipalities with active tourism departments and/or entities.

This industry can grow meaningfully, immediately, if a few key levers are moved, and can continue to grow over the next few years as we lay a foundation for truly transformative tourism growth thereafter.  Transformative economically and for black empowerment. We want a successful South Africa and I believe tourism, with its ability to deliver two million more jobs, is the industry that can enable our country’s economic revitalisation. 

I believe that this can be achieved with Government and private commitment to creating an enabling environment required to stimulate and support tourism growth and give this industry  True Recognition as a key economic sector, with emphasis, policies and support equal to, or beyond that afforded to other key sectors, such as mining, agriculture, and car manufacturing!

Six Easy Wins!

1. A world-class eVisa system available in all countries whose nationals require visas. It must handle capacity and be easy to use. Documentation requirements must not be onerous and the turnaround should be quick for most visa issuance. It must, as soon as possible, have interfaces in multiple languages, particularly Mandarin.

2.An immediate overhaul of the National Public Transport Regulator (NPTR) with respect to tourism transport licences, and a moratorium for operators who have been unable to obtain renewals, or licences for their new vehicles.  A task team to research and develop a new and workable system that could be a representative body to implement self-regulation for accreditation in line with the requirements of the Act and in partnership with NPTR.

3.Development of a Tourism Police/Tourism Monitors programme at scale; with appropriate partnerships (metro police, SAPS, private security, tourism private sector), institutional structures and resources. Best practice from other countries and successful local initiatives can be built on with strong nationwide co-ordination.

4. A functioning operational partnership between the private sector and SA Tourism to market destination South Africa, drawing on industry’s coalface expertise and synergising marketing activities. Smart, innovative and agile campaigns and messaging, including reputation management. Ensure core traditional markets are covered and develop significantly enhanced research and targeted campaigns for China, India and the rest of Africa.    

5. A China-ready destination strategy, together with Trade and Industry, to facilitate Chinese business and leisure tourists accessing and enjoying our destination, including widespread Chinese language spoken, signage and other information in Chinese, accommodation and food preferences provided for, payment systems in place, WiFi capacity, and air access. 

6. A national air access route development initiative, appropriately resourced, operating as a public private partnership to proactively woo airlines to add new routes and to expand capacity and frequencies on routes to South Africa.

Six Next-phase Steps!

7. A review of visa-requiring countries, with a view to implementing more visa waivers, taking particular account of countries with tourism potential, and to drop in totality the reciprocity principle.

8. Development of a comprehensive air transport strategy, including domestic, regional and long haul, in- and outbound, and freight. It must also cover all airports (Acsa and all other airports), ATNS infrastructure, all airlines, and the appropriate compliance and regulatory environment. 

9. Stimulating investment through resort IDZ (industrial development zones) nodes, and/or packages of sector-growth incentives. IDZs would be located strategically, close to coastal or inland attractions, and to townships where they can draw on labour and stimulate supply chain. Immediate feasibility investigation and development of rationale for resorts’ IDZs should be commenced.  Pure resort hotels (as in Mauritius, Morocco, Mexico – Cancun) are high-risk investments and governments of many successful destinations have been initial investors in such resorts and/or provided extensive incentives for their development.

10. Stimulate a latent domestic tourism market though smart social tourism programmes coupled with affordable product development. Government-owned (using upgraded, existing government resorts), privately operated affordable, resort chain addressing the product and experience needs of lower-middle and middle-class leisure travellers.   

11. Key road infrastructure upgrades – badly damaged roads are common in many, often rural, areas that access tourism attractions, and driving conditions can be extremely dangerous.  Domestic and foreign tourists are exposed to these dangerous roads, which are an embarrassment for a country that purports to have world-class road infrastructure. Tour buses have to drive with extreme caution to avoid incidents and self-drive tourists are often advised not to drive certain routes. An urgent route identification and funding plan for key tourism road upgrades is required.

12. A revised and enabling policy and regulatory environment through COGTA to ensure that ‘tourism’ municipalities address tourism appropriately. Tourism happens on the ground in municipalities, but it is largely not understood by municipal elected officials and officers.  Best-practice models and approaches to support tourism must be developed and required of local, district and city municipalities identified as having good or excellent tourism potential.