How SA can win back its global mojo: Tourism Red Tape Initiative

It makes sense (of sorts) that tourism in South Africa today attracts far more foreign exchange than gold mining, once the mainstay of the South African economy. And that special tourism markets that have developed, including medical tourism, continue to benefit the economy. And while the complicated visa documents requirements for travellers with minor children could have put a real damper on the industry, all the signs are that the red tape involved hasn’t – even if more by luck than good judgment, and the ever weakening Rand that makes South Africa even more of a desirable destination. Here, tourism lecturer at Tshwane University of Technology Unathi Sonwabile Henama makes the case for a full-on Tourism Red Tape Initiative by the government to  identify bottlenecks that impede the growth of tourism as a bottom- ups approach from each municipality to province, and work towards a national strategy. That will only increase the goodwill out there, and ensure that this country’s natural beauty and hospitable people continue to draw maximum benefit from hosting travellers from all corners of the globe. – Marika Sboros

By Unathi Sonwabile Henama*

Tourism safari
The magic of the African bush is one of SA’s greatest assets. Picture: FACEBOOK

When the White Paper on the Promotion and Development of Tourism in South Africa was adopted in 1996, it was envisioned that there would be a separate Ministry of Tourism. After the 2009, President Jacob Zuma announced a separate Ministry and Department of Tourism so that tourism can get dedicated attention.

Tourism has been growing since 1994 and its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product will increase – if steps and strategies are put in place to grow tourism.

Tourism today attracts more foreign exchange than gold mining, which was once the mainstay of the South African economy. There are several special tourism markets that are benefiting the economy such as medical tourism that has ensured that there is less brain drain from medical professionals.

The 2010 World Cup was able to bring in many visitors to South Africa that have seen our beautiful land and took back the memories to their respective countries. All corners of the world know South Africa and the country has benefited with a positive image. We even had a better World Cup than Brazil, and our stadium are theatres of beauty. South Africa is really a country of winners, but from time to time, reflection is imperative.

Visa cloud’s silver lining

2015 was possibly the best year for tourism in South Africa, though it might not have appeared so on the surface. The fact that the visa regulations were implemented led to a national conversation about the tourism industry that has never occurred before. As the saying goes, every cloud had a silver lining. This allowed for intense lobbying by the tourism industry and for once tourism became national news.

Ghandi
Ghandi sites across the country are tourist attractions. This statue is in Durban. Picture: FACEBOOK

Not only that, the Ministry of Tourism had a new minister, who had to handle the objections of the industry with his counterpart at the Ministry of Home Affairs. The national debate indicated the importance of tourism as an economic sector and for once people understood what were studied at school.

The President mentioned during his State of the Nation Address that he would look at this visa conversation, and he later established an inter-ministerial committee that made recommendations to the mutual benefit of both departments.

I appreciate the intense reflection that was a by product of the national discourse of the visa regulations. The adoption of tourism-led local economic development in South Africa has highlighted the importance of this sector. The inclusion of tourism in the National Development Plan is commendable; tourism is the future for South Africa.

I am  however of the opinion that the tourism sector must engage on a tourism red tape initiative (TRTI). The aim of the TRTI is to identify bottlenecks that impede the growth of tourism as a bottom- ups approach from each municipality to province, towards a national TRTI strategy.

This would be a collaborative process between the three levels of the state, the private sector and other stakeholders. It would be tourism’s own NDP.

Regional tourism perspective

There are some pressing national issues such as the long delays at Beit Bridge that has a negative impact on the regional tourism.

The fact that domestic airlines must be 75% owned by South Africans, prevents FDI into the domestic aviation space, limiting aviation competition. This would allow niche aviation players that would fly to destinations such as Queenstown, Moria, and Clarens just to name a few cities with potential.

There are several airports in Gauteng that must be developed to be international airports.

The TRTI would give speed to the re-evaluation of the Department of Transport’s Airlift Strategy. The fact that Wonderboom Airport in Tshwane is not at the level of OR Tambo International Airport still makes me to scratch my head in disbelief. Naturally when travellers fly overseas, they   take pleasure to arrive and descend at the capital city of a country. These are some of the things the TRTI would have to engage on.

Today the people of Brandfort are affected by the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality, whilst the tourism potential of having a Winnie Mandela shrine is not exploited.

The people of Port St John see thousands of visitors but the locals have little or no stake in the existing tourism industry. The people of the Vaal, with their immense struggle history remain destitute, whilst the tourism potential is not exploited.

The people of QwaQwa, Botshabelo and other former TBVC states have not packaged the past for tourism consumption, and there is immense potential for promoting cultural tourism from this history. More could have been done to develop the Bawa Falls in Butterworth and the Tsitsa Falls around Maclear. These are possible conversations that we in 2016 must learn to engage on.

Let us start the tourism national discourse.

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