Government’s Tourism Master Plan and Green Paper: Out of touch and AI-generated – Ivo Vegter

Ivo Vegter’s criticism of the recently released Tourism Master Plan and Green Paper is scathing, pointing out the government’s misplaced emphasis on technology and lack of understanding of the industry’s dynamics. The plan’s reliance on buzzwords like robotics, AI, and VR is deemed irrelevant, with Vegter highlighting the government’s failure to address crucial issues such as short-term rentals and the limitations of its proposed regulations. The presence of AI-generated content in the Green Paper underscores his concerns about the government’s detachment from the industry’s reality, raising questions about the feasibility of its proposed policies.

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Incompetent planners to decimate small tourism businesses

By Ivo Vegter*

When ignorant bureaucrats and AI bots decide to plan an industry sector, calamity is sure to follow.

I must admit to not having read all 68 pages of the newly-gazetted Tourism Master Plan, or all 60 pages of the previously gazetted Tourism Green Paper.

Based on the gibberish I have read, however, I would advise anyone affected by the government’s clueless tourism bureaucrats to scour it for idiotic nonsense. 

The Tourism Master Plan is done and dusted, and beyond changing, but the Green Paper is still open for comments until Sunday 29 October 2023.

It will interest tourism sector players to learn, for example, that according to page 24 of the Green Paper, the following technological advancements are ‘key enablers for Tourism sector transformation’:

  • Digital economy,
  • Robotics,
  • iCloud,
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI),
  • Virtual Reality (VR), and
  • Omnipresent connectivity (i.e. Wi-Fi and 5G).

If you went, ‘Duh!’ at some of these, and, ‘Huh?’ at others, you’re not alone. 

Stupid human

Robotics? I’m sure you could have a robot vacuum the rooms or serve breakfast at your lodge, but to be honest, I don’t think this is going to have as big an impact on the industry as the government seems to think. I must concede, however, that replacing menial staff with robots would dramatically transform the sector.

Artificial intelligence? Sure, you could have a generative AI chatbot whip you up some brochure copy, but I’d advise against it, for reasons we shall soon discover, and it won’t transform the industry, either.

VR? VR walkthroughs of rental accommodation have been a thing now for 20 years. As for VR headsets, well, almost nobody has one. Those tourism operators who think they can transform the industry by creating ‘virtual tourism’ experiences should probably know that the predicted cumulative total number of VR headsets sold worldwide by next year is expected to be about 34 million. Worldwide. Half of which are probably old and broken. That’s not a market that’s going to transform tourism.

And iCloud? Well, that is an Apple product, about which I know little except that people who use iPhones often store their pictures on it, and when iCloud gets hacked, they have a panic about it. I’m a little nonplussed as to why iCloud would be transformative for the tourism sector (and not, for example, Google Docs, Microsoft OneDrive, Proton Drive, Dropbox or Mega). I can’t think why any cloud service would be particularly transformative for the tourism industry.

The reason why that bulleted list doesn’t make any sense is very likely because it wasn’t written by an intelligent human. It could have been written by a very stupid human, with no clue what they’re talking about (and therefore no right to be writing Green Papers for the industry), but my guess is that it was written by AI.

AI chatbot

In support of this claim, I present to you the following passage, on page 26: 

3.2.2 EMERGING ISSUES AND OPPORTUNITIES: Crisis Management 

The Tourism sector is subject to various shocks and disruptions such as economIc crises, health pandemics and weather events. Despite the historical resilience of the Tourism sector and the ability for some destinations to recover, the irregular occurrence of these crises can potentially undermIne long-term sustainability.

Previous major crises include the Spanish Flu of 1918, the global financial crisis of 2008/2009, and recently, the 2019 Coronavirus pandemic. The events have revealed poor preparedness from destinations to comprehensively handle the impact of crises. Other crises include post-electIon violence (Kenya 2007/8), volcanic eruptions (Iceland, Chile), hurricanes (Katrina, USA), the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 9/11 attacks (USA), foot and mouth disease outbreaks (UK) and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome epidemic in Asia. Effective responses to some of these crises were Iimited, resulting in significant disruptIon to travellers. 

With all due sensitivity to the people whose tourism businesses were ravaged by the Spanish Flu in 1918, this is not a list (containing exactly ten items, coincidentally) that any half-conscious South African policy writer would have compiled in the context of local tourism crisis preparedness.

asked ChatGPT to make me a list of ten crises for which the tourism industry was insufficiently prepared, and it came up with a very similar list.

The presence of truly irrelevant, out-of-context words and phrases, like ‘Spanish Flu’, ‘iCloud’ and ‘Robotics’, strongly suggests that significant parts of this Green Paper consist of minimally-edited AI-generated content. 

I don’t think the tourism industry should roll over and agree to be governed by  machines, just yet. 

Short-term rentals

My interest in these documents was piqued by this MyBroadband article, which laments new regulations for people who rent out rooms or homes via online home-sharing platforms.

have written about this before: ‘Multibillion-rand hotel groups are suffering terribly unfair competition from greedy grannies who callously let their spare rooms to supplement their pensions. Minister Derek Hanekom is bravely coming to the defence of big business by proposing new rules and restrictions on AirBnb and other short-term rental providers.’

Some businesses in the sector, like guest houses, might feel they have legitimate complaints, because they have to comply with elaborate and costly regulations that the unregulated newcomers are not made to comply with.

The Tourism Master Plan does not mention ‘sharing economy platforms’, ‘home-sharing platforms’, ‘short-term rentals’ or ‘new platform tourism services’ at all. This strikes me as a critical oversight in a document that purports to be a centralised master plan for the entire industry.

The Tourism Green Paper does mention them, however. It wastes few words on the supposed problems online short-term rental platforms (like AirBnb and Booking.com) cause: ‘Challenges have emerged, however, including flooding of supply, including that which is unregulated. This can drive down prices to unsustainable levels, particularly for formal Tourism entities carrying operational costs.’

Mis-diagnosis

If I put my would-be tourist hat on (and hats I have aplenty), this sounds like a mis-diagnosis to me.

Driving down prices is great, if you want to encourage tourism. If you want to discourage tourism, and be uncompetitive compared to other global destinations, then make policies that raise prices. 

I won’t repeat the arguments made in MyBroadband, since they make an excellent case that the proposed restrictions on private short-term rentals are draconian, unmerited and counter-productive.

Why should anyone be restricted to renting accommodation for only a small part of the year, for example? That makes no practical sense whatsoever. 

That will only serve to drive short-term rental into the black market, where tourists and hosts privately negotiate accommodation arrangements, without the intervention of online platforms. This black market will be untraceable, and will undermine the quality-assurance function that the big platforms provide.

That function, by the way, goes entirely unremarked in the Green Paper. It calls sharing-platform accommodation ‘unregulated’, but it does not engage at all with the customer review mechanism that digital platforms provide. 

This makes government quality assurance regulations, inspections, licensing and registration almost entirely obsolete, since inadequate accommodation will be weeded out by negative reviews.

This is a far more efficient and trustworthy system. Bribing government officials for a good rating is easy. Bribing customers for a good rating involves actually giving them an excellent experience. 

Anti-innovation

More broadly, this illustrates that a government ‘master plan’ for an industry is inherently anti-innovation and anti-progress. 

The Green Paper claims to want innovation (like robots and virtual reality and other glorious buzzwords its authors don’t even understand), but when actual innovation happens in the market, improving both choice and pricing for tourists, they step in to protect the lumbering old-school incumbents from the innovative upstarts.

The problem isn’t that the private short-term rental market is unregulated; the problem is that the traditional incumbents are over-regulated. A sensible policy response would be not to hobble the most competitive players in the market, but to unhobble those that, thanks to government intervention, struggle to compete. 

When the government not only proposes to serve big business by curbing competition from innovative new market entrants, but also has AI chatbots writing large parts of its policies, that government must be taken to task and defeated. 

It doesn’t serve the tourism industry. It doesn’t serve the country. And it certainly doesn’t serve tourists. Whom it does serve, I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader.

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*Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker who loves debunking myths and misconceptions, and addresses topics from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. .

This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission