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Tourism indaba: Focus on tourism red tape

Opinion & Analysis
The largest travel exhibition in Africa, Africa Tourism Indaba started on May 8, 2018 at the ICC in Durban, South Africa.

The largest travel exhibition in Africa, Africa Tourism Indaba started on May 8, 2018 at the ICC in Durban, South Africa.

By Unathi S Henama

It provides meeting spaces for travel buyers and product owners to sell Destination Africa.

Tourism is a growing sector in many African economies. Tourism is highly competitive and Western countries continue to dominate trade in tourism, whilst Africa receives less than 10% of global tourism receipts.

Tourism is able to succeed in a country, if there is political will and political support.

Durban is a model city as 100% political support ensured that the tourism succeeds in driving the economy of Durban.

Durban undertook an in-depth analysis of its tourism performance, identifying weaknesses, and trying to mitigate the decline in tourism. Durban learnt from this exercise, by reflecting on the successes and failures of its tourism plans.

As we attend the indaba, there must be analysis of tourism red tapes. International tourism in South Africa has grown above 12%, while the decline in domestic tourism, reflecting a poor economy.

South Africa will need more international tourists to mitigate the decline in domestic tourism.

The celebrated 12% growth of international tourism remains an underachievement when one analyses the potential of South Africa.

South Africa has potential to achieve 50% year-on-year growth if tourism red tape is addressed. Tourism red tape includes visa regulations and airlift and air access to SA.

The vision of the National Tourism Sector Strategy (NTSS) was that South Africa must be a top 20 tourism destinations by the year 2020. The NTSS was an inclusive contract between the state and the tourism industry for growth.

In 2017, the language at the Indaba was different, the NTSS was declared an amnesia item, as 5-in-5 was the new rhetoric. The new rhetoric was that South Africa must seek five million more tourists in five years.

It is important to identify the visa regulations and airlift and air access as the stumbling blocks limiting tourism and the attainment of the NTSS vision.

The attention of the tourism industry has been squarely on the visa regulations, which shall be finalised soon.

The resolution of the visa regulations is a foregone conclusion, but the tourism trade had failed to raise the equally important issues of airlift and air access.

The Department of Transport is the new turf ground, where the tourism industry must lead the process of persuasion and diplomacy for open skies.

The democratic state must test open-skies just like it persuaded South Africans to try out the e-tolls.

Open skies mean more frequencies, more competition and lower prices, benefiting tourists and citizens.

As South Africa’s experiences a decline in mining, manufacturing and agricultural production, tourism has emerged as a reliable economic messiah.

Tourism has been acknowledged as the new gold, and if it is the new gold, tourism must be assisted to succeed driving South Africa’s economy.

The structural challenges of unemployment, poverty, inequality and pedestrian economic growth, are too pressing for us to ignore the untapped potential of the tourism industry in South Africa.

The South African tragedy is that poverty coexists with wealth and opulence, to an extent that poverty is normalised, and we have become oblivious to its existence. It means we may be contributors to the spread of poverty, through our unconscious actions.

The aviation committees at the Department of Transportation have unfairly targeted ComAir, one of the most successful companies in the tourism industry.

These unfortunate actions must be raised by the travel trade at Africa’s tourism indaba, to ensure that the Transport minister Blade Nzimande is made aware.

Nzimande must be made aware of the unfortunate conduct of officials within his department that threaten the attainment of tourism growth as detailed by President Cyril Ramaphosa during the State of the Nation Address.

Tourism more than any other sector needs a supporting public service in order to succeed. The World Economic Forum Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index Ranking, ranked South Africa 53rd, five points below its ranking in 2015.

South Africa lags its BRICS partners, China (15th), Brazil (27th), India (40) and Russia (43rd). Mauritius is ranked 55th, and this small island country is two places below South Africa.

Considering that South Africa has a far superior tourism sector than Mauritius, these rankings should be sobering for Destination South Africa.

South Africa can improve its ranking to be in the top 20 destinations by the year 2020, if the spirit of collaboration succeeds to reducing red tape limiting tourism growth. Before that is achieved, those that limit tourism growth must be confronted within the state apparatus.

Maybe let’s learn from Durban by facing the demons that limit tourism growth in SA, located within the Department of Transportation.

It won’t be an easy conversation, but it’s a conversation that is long overdue.

Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at the Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity