So what triggered my urge to write one of my few and far between ‘essays’ today?
I guess recently I was exposed to two ‘events’. Namely, the interview on 702 of our Minister of Tourism, and the excellent Economist Corporate Network presentation on ‘How to move the needle’, by Gillian Saunders.
In essence, both times the core to the message revolves around the tourism industry's ability to change the fortunes of our ailing economy, our high unemployment and our global reputation. The numbers presented – including some global benchmarks – make for a compelling narrative, which keeps on energising my patriotic outlook to my adopted homeland.
And yes, these highly optimistic targets require swift, inclusive, multi-ministerial government department action to create an enabling environment, where private industry can flourish. We need Home Affairs to contribute a visa regime that is digital, quick, easy and painless, we need Transport to actually permit vehicles, we need the Safety and Security cluster to create an environment where tourists can travel freely and in safety. Just as an aside, I would love that as a citizen too. We need Education to deliver us the skills required for growth and we need Tourism Promotion Agencies that drive exposure and reputation.
If all these departments were to actually get their mandate right, there is a reasonable chance of some magic when it comes to rapid growth with all its socio-economic benefits.
Now let's just for a second assume that the above growth is possible. In reality, this leaves us with a most interesting question raised by Ryan from &Beyond recently. What is the tourist carrying capacity of South Africa – spoken like a true lodge business executive. Is there a ceiling, what type of product should we sell in what source markets and – I learned a new term – is there such a thing as a risk of ‘Overtourism’?
About a year ago the then Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom, requested Margie Whitehouse and myself to document a possible tourism philosophy for South Africa, which we duly did and, in Gillian's view this morning, it actually made logical sense.
South Africa, due to its economic and employment development goals, does not have the luxury to follow the Botswana and Rwanda philosophies of low-volume, high-cost, low-impact tourism, nor should we create high-volume tourism as can be seen at the Kenyan coast or in Egypt.
Why? For starters, our current product offering is aimed at a more niche type of client, who would largely shy away from an area flooded by tourists, leaving a material component of current infrastructure under pressure to remain sustainable.
Secondly our natural and man-made resources such as water, protected land, roads, airports and electricity, to name a few, are already under severe pressure and cannot cope with further materially increased demands. Lastly, volume destinations are, more often than not, highly commoditised, price-driven and offer a different level of a value proposition, which will reposition our reputation into a space that is not desirable for long-term commercial success.
Hence my and Margie’s document recommended a compromise tourism philosophy – if I remember correctly we did described it as ‘Niched mainstream with an exceptional upper end!’
So......what do you think? Because the implementation of a researched and validated tourism philosophy has a direct impact on source market and segment choices, on infrastructure development, on marketing fund deployment and on investment decisions....the total tourism industry trajectory.