The threat of terrorism attacks on South Africa: A tourism outlook

The December 2015 tourist arrivals statistics released by Statistic South Africa revealed that the UK’s contribution on inbound international tourists is represented by 54 608 tourists, whilst the USA produced 28 691 tourists. These two countries, both in the West represent 35.5% of the total inbound tourism market to South Africa. African countries receive less than 10% of international tourism receipts, which is a drop in the ocean, because the majority of tourism happens between countries in the West, limiting the developmental ability and potential of tourism. This means that tourism from a developmental potential, benefits countries in the West, that need it the least, than developing countries.

Tourism has the potential to redistribute incomes, from the West to developing countries, and from urban areas to the rural hinterlands. Tourism because it’s a service, that is simultaneously produced and consumed, can only be consumed at the destination area. This means that the majority of the value adding can occur at the destination, far different from the natural products such as gold that are exported from South Africa, with little to no local beneficiation. Tourism therefore is an export product that is consumed at the destination area.  Tourism is one of the few industries where it is practically impossible to set trade barriers, the only exception being the USA ban on direct flights to Cuba that was recently reviewed.

Almost all countries have adopted tourism as a developmental policy to benefit from the positive economic impacts of tourism. Tourism is one industry that is sensitive to acts of terror, in as much as the industry is resilient. Tourism requires peace as a prerequisite for growth, which means that the state’s capacity to maintain safety and security becomes a critical success factor for tourism growth. Actually tourism is good for good governance, and making nation states to refrain from the allowing state disintegration and the resultant failed and weak state. Safety and security can be regarded as part of the tourism dividend.

Tourist enclaves can attract terrorist attacks and become easy targets because tourists would normally be unarmed when on holiday. This means that tourist enclaves such as Sandton City, Sun City, Nelson Mandela Square, Melrose Arch, V & A Waterfront, Soweto, and Durban must be on high alert in addition to ports of entry such as OR Tambo International Airport. In an alert issued on Saturday, the US government said it had “received information that terrorist groups are planning to carry out near-term attacks against places where US citizens congregate in South Africa, such as upscale shopping areas and malls in Johannesburg and Cape Town’’.

With global economic growth rates declining, can the travel advisories by the UK and USA be regarded as tourism espionage? I do not think so, in as much as the travel advisories have the ability to destroy tourist arrivals to South Africa generally, and Africa specifically.  I think we must use accept these travel advisories with the humility it requires, which may point to deficiencies within our security cluster. South Africa is number 48 in the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2015 noted low levels of personal safety and security are a major challenge to the competitiveness of destination South Africa.

I think that South Africa must prepare for a terrorist attack and develop a crisis management plan for the tourism industry; this does not in any way imply that I suggest that mitigation must not be undertaken. South Africa must communicate a clear message that it can manage the threat of terrorism, I guess the threat of terrorism is now the new Ebola. The fact that tourism is an cross-cutting and multi-dimensional industry, whose tourism product offering depends on the close cooperation between various government department, the urgent need for the development of a Tourism Red Tape Initiative (TRTI) that will identify issues that have an negative impact and are bottlenecks on the growth of tourism are identified.

This TRTI would become tourism’s own National Development Plan, a pro-active approach that would initiative collaboration. The humility of our collective experience with the visa regulations is that there is a need for on-going conversations, which must not be ad-hoc but institutionalised by the TRTI. This may be uncomfortable conversation but our obligation is to take the advise of Mao Tse-Tung that ‘’ 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.

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