Local Government Conference Affirms South Africa As A “Must See” Destination

Siboniso Mawandla | The Republic Mail

Domestic tourism can continue to grow if we involve more blacks as product owners and as consumers, Writes Unathi Sonwabile Henama

The Department of Tourism hosted the 2017 Local Government Tourism Conference from April 3-4 at Emperors Palace. The conference was themed ‘Tourism Planning is Everybody’s Business’ provided a platform for local government, the public and private sectors to engage and map a way forward for tourism development.

The LGTC was aimed at tourism stakeholders and industry players to assist the tourism sector to plan its development mandate to contribute towards economic development. The conference occurred immediately after President Jacob Zuma had reshuffled his Cabinet. Derek Hanekom was no longer the Minister of Tourism and had been replaced by Tokozile Xasa.

Minister Xasa had been the Deputy Minister of Tourism for several terms. Change is a permanent feature of life and ours is to support the Ministry of Tourism to achieve its objectives. In 2016, South Africa welcomed 10 million visitors, and this means that tourism has sustained its growth trajectory. South Africa remains a ‘’must see’’ destination, as tourism has embraced consumer culture.

Air access remains a challenge, as it remains a barrier to tourism growth considering that South Africa is a long haul destination. The Western Cape government must be commended for the Cape Town Air Access Initiative that had increased arrivals to the Western Cape. 2017 is the year that the African Ministers of Transport agreed that Africa’s airspace would be liberalized.

The 23 African states that signed the January 2015 Declaration of Solemn Commitment towards the establishment of a Single African Air Transport Market by 2017. The Declaration of Solemn Commitment uses the model of the Yamoussoukro Decision to immediately allow countries that are ready and willing to open up their markets.

Currently, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Ghana, Congo Republic, Senegal, Togo, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire and Benin make up 14 of the 23 countries that have signed the Declaration of Solemn Commitment. The Ministry of Tourism must play a key role to ensure that it engages with its sister Ministry of Transport to ensure that tourism benefits from greater aviation access. Air access will increase tourism arrivals.

South Africa is losing out on millions of rands as meetings planners are choosing other African destinations because our visa machinery discourages African tourism. The actual truth is Africans find it easier to get an American visa than a South Africa visa. This occurs when research has proven that African tourists are spending more than European tourists. I hope that with the changes in the Ministry of Home Affairs, there exists fertile ground to push for a 10 years visa. Ongoing bilateral with the Ministry of Home Affairs would ensure that South Africa develops a visa system that would make it easy for tourists to visit South Africa.

I am an optimist that the South Africa would be one of the top 20 destinations by the year 2020 in line with the objectives of the National Tourism Sector Strategy. South Africa’s tourism competitiveness is further challenged by low levels of personal safety and security, which makes tourists to choose other destinations. Domestic tourism remains important and the latest results show a decline in the number of trips.

Domestic tourism can continue to grow if we involve more blacks as product owners and as consumers. The biggest lie is that blacks do not have money to travel, when there is a thriving stokvel economy which has is valued around R49 billion. More must be done to engage the stokvel economy to ensure that more black South Africans become tourism consumers. Tourism consumption has the benefit in that it creates happiness, which is a benefit on Quality-in-Life.

Uber is part of the tourism economy, and any attack on Uber is an attack on the tourism industry. Tourists prefer using Uber, and a growing number of South Africans, and Uber must be embraced and protected from the home grown terrorism exemplified by the meter taxi drivers. Uber has created more jobs and jobs are what we need in South Africa to restore human dignity and create a better life for all.

Tourism is the new gold and will continue to drive our economy if we work together. Local government has been identified as the biggest stumbling block to growth tourism because of failing in its constitutional responsibility to provide services to citizens and businesses. Local government must create a conducive environment for tourism to grow.

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