Unblocking SA’s tourism highway – Paul Bannister

CAPE TOWN — We so often create the biggest barriers to our own growth; it’s true of our individual and our corporate selves. Finding out what’s in the way often unlocks undreamt of potential. Here Paul Bannister, CEO of the strategic marketing consultancy Ignite, expands on an idea from Biznews founder Alec Hogg earlier this week. That was to redirect some of the billions intended for the much-sought re-industrialisation of South Africa into boosting tourism by creating hundreds of owner-operated tour buses. Bannister looks at what’s in the way of offering the world the tourism pearl that is South Africa. Tourism is a highly flexible, simple and quick way of creating economic growth. With a few illustrative stats such as the greater numbers of Brits travelling to remote Australia versus South Africa, he identifies local roadblocks impeding travel on our vast tourism highway. Things like the unabridged birth-certificate requirements, short-stay visas that limit overseas “swallow” visitors, the value competitiveness of flights from the UK, poor public transport mobility, the lack of sufficient beach resorts and of course the hardy-annual; crime and personal security. Now that the tourism-repellent Zuptoids are on the way out and concerns like Listeriosis and Cape Town’s Day Zero water threat are gone, there’s much innovation available. Bannister has several suggestions. – Chris Bateman

By Paul Bannister*

As a country we need to urgently unlock the potential of tourism as tourism is really a potential ‘quick and sustainable win’ from an economic growth perspective :

    • It can be turned on relatively quickly
    • It provides job for a wide range of skilled and un-skilled people
    • It encourages entrepreneurialism
    • It can provide growth points in the cities and in the rural areas.
    • It is as much about ‘attitude’ (a welcoming environment) as it is about financial investment.

It would appear as if President Ramaphosa understands this as he singled out tourism as a major strategic pillar of the economy and spoke of additional funding. He also returned Minister Hanekom to the national Tourism portfolio and judging by his comments at a recent WESGRO report back, the Minister understands both the potential and the challenges.

As an indication of what is possible let’s consider the UK as an out-bound market. It is SA’s number One international market and has been for years it is also a substantial market for Australia:

  • UK TO AUSTRALIA (870 000 PA)
  • UK TO SOUTH AFRICA (< 500 000 PA)

Australia outperforms South Africa by over 70% with arguably an inferior intrinsic product that is far more difficult and expensive to access from an air access perspective. This leads us to ask the Question – ‘WHY’

Franschhoek Wine Tram, Western Cape, South Africa | by South African Tourism.

The President spoke about allocating more funding to tourism but the challenges we have to grow tourism in SA are not so much about marketing the destination’s amazing attributes but more about addressing the barriers, many of which are ‘self-imposed and/or ‘self -inflicted’. These ‘barriers’ make it extremely challenging for visitors, particularly first time visitors, to come to SA. There is a concern, which appears to be confirmed by the relatively poor growth (+6%) year on year for January 2018, that, despite the obvious potential that tourism has as an economic generator, the issues that South Africa faces are currently combining to comprise a ‘perfect storm’. 

Bearing in mind that ‘perceptions are peoples’ reality’ these are some of the issues that need to be urgently addressed: (Please note that this list is illustrative, not exhaustive and the ideas are embryonic!):

  • PERSONAL SAFETY / CRIME / CORRUPTION – We simply have to get national and provincial police on board and effective. We have to create a safe environment (this is an absolute fundamental for our own citizens lets alone our visitors!) and take back the open spaces and the streets from an increasingly violent criminal element. We need to harness technology, as per the ‘drone technology’ now being used to combat rhino poaching. There have been some interesting developments in terms of the possible development of a ‘tourism buddy’ app which visitors (and locals) could access to provide tourism information but also a direct safety/security link. Perhaps a more simple and obvious solution is to enable more visible policing on our streets by harnessing the energy and ability of our substantial retired community to ‘man’ the police stations and handle the administrative load leaving the able bodied force to get out onto the streets.
  • VISA REGIME AND PROCESS – we need home affairs to shift their perspective to facilitate not inhibit tourism. It will be interesting to see how the ‘re-instated’ Minister of Home Affairs addresses the problems that he himself created in terms of Visas and Birth Certificates. As a very practical and easily implementable change – SA currently grant tourists a 90 day maximum visa….the ‘swallows’ (travellers from the northern hemisphere seeking to escape the winter)  would happily stay for up to 180 days – it’s a simple change which could possibly almost double our swallow expenditure in the local economy……and then there is the matter of the need for a ‘univisa’ for Southern Africa as visitors wish to travel to places and events that extend beyond ‘geo-political’ boundaries – let’s make it easy for them!
  • THE UNABRIDGED BIRTH CERTIFICATE SAGA: Supposedly introduced by the self-same Home Affairs Minister to stop child trafficking through our major points of entry the unabridged birth certificate confusion has cost the country thousands of bookings…….and does this really stop ‘cross border’ movement of adults and children into and out of neighbouring countries through fairly porous borders?
  • AIR ACCESSIBILITY Wesgro’s air access project in the Cape has yielded excellent results in terms of additional seat capacity but still needs to: get direct access from the USA; increase the value competitiveness of flights from the UK; and critically, get SAA aligned (they closed the CT-LDN direct route and sold-off the valuable Heathrow landing slot). The debate over the role and purpose of SAA has to take place – is it intended to be a national carrier or a commercial airline ? Tourism needs a National airline that maximizes access and egress. Emirates gets it, Turkish Airlines gets it….even Ethiopian Airlines gets it!
  • THE NEGATIVE NARRATIVE AMONGST THE SA DIASPORA located within the source countries – South Africans too often default to ‘talking down’ SA as they have ‘left usually for political reasons’ whereas Aussies, for example, always talk up Australia (but don’t mention the cricket) wherever and whenever they travel. Australia, understands the power of a Nation brand, and is now riding the wave of successfully hosting the Commonwealth Games. It’s a great pity that Durban didn’t want to do this in 2022 as it is often seen as a precursor to hosting the Olympics. Despite #Ramaphoria, the latest emigration wave as a result of the ‘zuptoidification’ of South Africa continues to drain the best young talent that our economy desperately needs to retain.
  • PRODUCT GAPS: BEACH RESORTS – South Africa doesn’t hardly have any (MAURITIUS attracts over 750 000 international visitors per annum with only beach resorts – and all through one very modest airport! The GREY NOMADS a fascinating and wealthy target market segment. Travel around Australia and you will find ‘Grey Nomads (over 60 couples in their 4X4s) camping and renting beach cottages at beautifully appointed sites all around Australia – this segment is one of the bedrocks of the Australian domestic tourism economy.
  • MOBILITY: safe, clean, accessible and affordable public transport in the cities and around the country. The need for a fully integrated, safe, dependable and affordable public transport system in our cities is self-evident for people who have visited world class cities like Toronto, Melbourne or Zurich where one card gets you anywhere on any form of public transport. Is it logical or rational to have a national rail operator (PRASA) run (for want of a better word) the metro rail system in Cape Town – the frustrated Cape Town commuters can answer that one!
  • TOURISM PLANT / INFRASTRUCTURE: other than the city centres of Cape Town and Sandton there has been relatively little investment in hospitality in SA post the 2010 World Cup owing to lack of confidence in the prospects for the country as a result of policy and political uncertainty. The ‘Bell Pottinger/Zupta generated and amplified ‘popularist’ messaging such as ‘radical economic transformation’ and ‘white monopoly capital’ has served to further discourage local and/or international investment and now the EWC (Expropriation without compensation) narrative has added to the negative sentiment.
  • DOMESTIC TOURISM: a dynamic domestic tourism economy is the foundation of most tourism economies worldwide: South Africa has not as yet developed a viable and wide reaching domestic tourism economy. Arguably we don’t have either the products – holiday camps, affordable beach and bush cottages and well-equipped and safe camp sites, etc – or the safe and affordable means of public transport.
  • HEALTHCARE: It is sadly true that any health/disease ‘outbreak’ in Africa (such as Ebola in Liberia) tends to lead to cancellations across the continent owing to the lack of understanding of the size of the continent and the prevailing mood of ‘afro-pessimism’ in developed economies. The incidence of Avian Flu and the current Listeriosis situation has added substance to the perceptions of healthcare concerns in South Africa.
  • WATER: Whereas the DAY ZERO campaign has been ‘justified’ in terms of changing domestic usage patterns in the Western Cape it undoubtedly impacted negatively on inbound international tourism. The shift in the narrative to ‘the first global City to demonstrate how the new reality of limited water availability can be handled sustainably’ has undoubtedly helped as has the City and Wesgro’s reassurance that life and events continue as ‘normal’….but the politicisation of the situation, in the pre #Ramaphoria period, has also exacerbated the situation.
Blyde River Canyon Dam, Mpumalanga, South Africa | by South African Tourism.


  • We need to get agreement, alignment and commitment from all of the role players – supply side, demand side, and the enabling environment about the issues that need to be addressed.
  • It is not productive to continue to ascribe blame
  • We need to convene a real tourism indaba with key objectives of ‘alignment, agreement and commitment’ to tangible actions and the development of an aggressive tourism growth strategy.
  • The key players from the supply side, the demand side and the enabling environment need to get into the same room and not only work out the key actions required to make South Africa more competitive (a top 20 tourism economy by 2020 on the WEF tourism index with 20 million incoming visitors was the ‘unwritten’ goal pre 2010), but critically to reach agreement and commitment as to who must complete each action and by when. There can be no dissenters and no political agendas or race cards should be allowed.


  • SOUTH AFRICA needs to get itself back onto a competitive growth path (as per the vision 2030 strategy)
  • We should start with tourism to demonstrate how a sector can grow in an inclusive, sustainable and exponential manner.
  • Tourism needs to be the inspiration to the nation and demonstrate that a sector that works together wins together
  • We need to convene a real tourism indaba and get the process moving .
  • We now have a National Tourism Minister who understands the needs and who has the ear of the President
  • Now is the time to act.

*Paul Bannister is Managing Director at Ignite Strategies

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