The Tourism Indaba is the premier travel exhibition show on the African continent, hosted in the Indian Ocean city of Durban. The tourism industry has gained political mileage with the introduction of the visa regulations last year on the 01 June, which were later revised after intense lobbying by the tourism industry. The voice of tourism then was compelling and it captured national attention and led to a national discourse.
The Tourism Indaba occurs just a few weeks after the Minister of Sports had revoked government support for sporting codes such as Athletics, Rugby, Cricket and Netball for hosting events in South Africa because of the low pace of transformation.
Tourism will be the biggest loser as sports tourism is big business, and South Africa has successful hosted major sporting events. The City of eThekwini will host the Commonwealth Games in 2022 as preparing to submit a bid for the Olympic Games which would hopefully be the first on African soil. In as much as sports tourism will be the biggest loser, it’s imperative that we reflect with humility that actually the banned sporting codes share many similarities with tourism, a stubborn lack of transformation. The word transformation in tourism as in sports is a wedge driver, instead of being a moral imperative to ensure shared growth, and improved social cohesion. Tourism will play a greater role in the economy of South Africa, as the decline of mining is a foregone conclusion.
Tourism is actually the ‘’new gold’’ as it attracts more foreign exchange than mining. Tourism is imperative, as almost all municipalities embrace tourism-led Local Economic Development. The consumption economy that tourism represents is far different from the production economy of mining, manufacturing, and agriculture. To ensure that tourism growth leads to better standards of living and Quality-of-Life (QoL) for the residents and businesses, we must use of collective efforts to ensure that we remove the stumbling blocks to tourism, we must remove the red tape. We must move with haste, but we must look and realise how important tourism is, when we consider that it’s multi-faceted, and a cross-cutting industry. Yes, tourism is an apex industry that must be regarded with the same importance by the government as the security cluster. When the skies are not liberalised, the country gets less tourists than competing destinations, losing out on jobs that would be created.
A country will less airports of international status loses our on increased air connectivity that would provide a fast transportation system which is good for business, and tourism. If the ports are ineffective in how they operate, the cruise ships will not disembark in South Africa, meaning we are losing out on the expenditure by the cruise ship customers. When the monopoly structure of private healthcare continues to ensure that prices increase, then South Africa will be a less attractive medical tourism destination, especially for our regional tourists (who remain invisible to us). Already Acid Mine Drainage is having a detrimental impact on the tourism in the West Rand of Gauteng, threatening the Cradle of Humankind, Sterkfontein World Heritage Site. Old derelict mines can be used for tourism consumption, by offering mine tours, to alleviate the economic decline that occurs especially in secondary town which are single economies towns dominated by mining.
Actually the Chamber of Mines must be convinced by our collective wisdom to integrate tourism in mine planning and mine closure. The mines have abundant land that could be used for tourism consumption; the Kraalkop Nature Reserve is an example, owned by AngloGold Ashanti. If the Department of Labour continues to turn a blind eye to the tourism industry’s use of foreign and illegal labour, it will lead to social instability, resulting in xenophobic violence. The tourism private sector must unlearn the culture of hiring foreign and illegal labour when South Africa has more than 25% unemployment.
South Africa has low levels of personal safety and security and the time is opportune to demand Tourism Police Force. The indignity of service that the majority of our regional tourists get at our border posts hardly gets media attention. We should be rolling out the red carpet for our regional tourists that are mostly independent travellers who come for business, medical and shopping reasons to South Africa. Intelligence is playing a critical role as terrorists target areas with a plethora of tourists such as airports, major tourism nodes, and major sporting events. This means that tourist enclaves such as Sun City, Sandton, all airports and the Gautrain could possibly be targets. I hope that very soon tourism is regarded as an apex industry, mine was to recall Mao Tse-Tung who said ‘’ Let flowers of many kinds blossom. Let diverse schools of thought contend’’.
Mr. Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at the Tshwane University of Technology, and writes in his personal capacity.