I was recently reminded of the words of US President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who said: “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” This is a lesson that those in the Northern hemisphere’s tourism industry had to learn the hard way, as the pent-up travel demand was released ahead of their summer, and destinations battled to keep up.
South Africa, however, is in a good position to learn from this experience and to use the ‘good weather’ to ensure that we are ready for the tourism growth that our data says is coming, and fast. For example, we know that there will be over 191 international flights a week coming into Cape Town International Airport from January 2023, representing a total of 1.56 million two-way seats.
To put a focus on the need to “repair our roof while the sun is shining”, I hosted a Summer Tourism Readiness Dialogue with key industry representatives, facilitating an open, honest and robust discussion on what preparations we need to make. Our discussion related to three main areas affecting the tourism and hospitality sector, namely: accessibility, skills and destination marketing and management, including safety.
On the first theme, we discussed how successful the Cape Town Air Access collaboration, housed within Wesgro, has been at increasing connections to Cape Town and to the Western Cape, so that we can make it easier and more affordable to travel between our countries and our cities, to attract more visitors, as well as facilitate investment and trade.
I was very pleased to note that the recent jet fuel shortage at Cape Town International Airport (CTIA) had largely been resolved and that the airport had constructed an additional fuel bunker, set to come online in a matter of months. This challenge was fortunately not a systemic issue.
We do, however, face challenges with our country’s visa system, which impacts access. We need to make sure that the e-Visa system, which is a great innovation, actually works so that there are no delays. We need to simplify and expand the skills visa criteria and the Western Cape Government is committed to working with the national government and the private sector to find ways to make our visa regime work better, including introducing a remote working visa.
We then discussed the current shortage of skills across the board, throughout the sector, which was brought on by the pandemic and has a real impact on the ability of the sector to deliver the level of hospitality expected.
For our part, we are partnering with different levels of government and running skills programmes to assist in filling the staffing gaps left by the pandemic.
We are currently working with the Department of Tourism to place Food Quality Assurance graduates in the workplace, with 89% already placed.
Starting in November, 42 learners will be placed at the CTIA to assist with general tasks in and around the airport, and on the culinary side, we are working with two host companies to train 20 chefs, who are gaining important workplace experience for future seasons. The discussion demonstrated the need to do much more in this space, especially in facilitating ‘soft’ skills.
The third broad theme discussed was destination management and marketing.
We are very proud to partner with Wesgro, which does fantastic work in marketing our destination both here in South Africa and around the world. I’d like to congratulate them for winning a silver, a bronze and a craft certificate for their work at the Loeries (advertising awards) recently. This included for their excellent Neverending Tourists campaign, and their innovative Roblox Table Mountain Game.
Ensuring the safety of visitors
On the destination management side, our key focus is ensuring the safety of visitors.
The Department of Economic Development and Tourism runs the Tourism Safety and Support Programme, which is specifically designed to provide safety support to tourists and businesses, by working proactively with various stakeholders to prevent crime. We are also collaborating with the City of Cape Town and the Department of Police Oversight and Community Safety to do even more in this space, with exciting new initiatives to be launched soon.
By gathering and setting the agenda for what is required, we are ensuring that we are ready to roll out the red carpet for visitors, both local and foreign, in the upcoming season and preparing for our success.
This success will not come from working in silos. Our success for the upcoming season and for every season after that will be because we have come together, we have faced our challenges and that, together, we have found and implemented solutions and ‘repaired our roofs’ for an impressive summer tourism season.