jamie mink

The TBCSA: working to fix tourism

It must be clear to even the dullest amongst us that tourism in South Africa is teetering. Yes, the numbers are up, but they’re not where they should be, and they’re papering over the cracks (TBCSA Tourism Business Index: steady travel and tourism business performance results for Q1 2016).  There’re deep problems in tourism and they need fixing.

According to Mmatšatši Ramawela, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), one of the challenges was the souring of the relationship between her organisation and the national Department of Tourism. This, she said, began in the days after the tourism function was removed from the old Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.

The reasons aren’t important to us here: what is important is that the TBCSA bills itself as, “a non-profit, member driven organisation serving the needs of our members and focusing on the growth and the sustainability of the travel and tourism sector in South Africa.”

FIXING THE SOURING

“Although we continued to work with one another, we weren’t as close as we are now,” said Mmatšatši.

One of the reasons for the improvement was that the current Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom, “has come in and embraced our industry.

“What impressed us most from the start was his commitment to address tourism’s challenges. But he’s not just talk. If you see the way he joined forces with us when we were facing the biggest hurdle that our industry has ever faced with the new immigration regulations.

“He’s always available to meet, he relies on us to provide him with input, and as I’m speaking to you (on 31 March, 2016), he’s in China to meet his counterparts there to discuss opening more offices there for Home Affairs.

“But we have to understand that the Minister is only one person within the cabinet, within the ANC, and that it’s not his word alone that will carry the day.”

Mmatšatši said that it’s important that the industry supports Minister Hanekom – especially since the ANC’s January 2016 National Executive Committee Lekgotla, which identified tourism as one of the sectors that can help the economy to improve in the short- to medium term.

“Although the National Development Plan has always prioritised six economic sectors to move our economy forward, tourism always came last on the list – but it’s now been moved up to first place,” she said.

5 WORKING GROUPS

“So it was out of those decisions at the NEC that the Minister met with us in February this year to discuss how we as tourism can respond to this call from the cabinet.”

Mmatšatši said that the TBCSA tabled a “quick diagnostic report” to the Minister and colleagues from the Treasury Department at that meeting.

“We said to him that he needs to explain to cabinet that there are no quick fixes for the problems that tourism is facing, because our problems are largely at a national level, and are sitting in the legislative and administrative space. These include things like the emigration regulations, the airlift strategy for South Africa, and the funding of South Africa Tourism,” she said.

Despite these challenges, the TBCSA believes that there is much that can be done.

“To take the work forward,” said Mmatšatši, the parties agreed to create five working groups to address the specific, glaring issues facing us all. These are:

  1. Marketing and promotion (which countries and regions need to be targeted, what needs to be done in each);
  2. Business tourism, shows and conferences (“these can deliver results very quickly”);
  3. Regulatory impediments (immigration, airlift, etc.);
  4. Branding and public relations (“We need to take cognisance of the fact, and accept that the image of the country has been damaged internationally, that people are saying, ‘It’s a great destination, but…’”);
  5. The growing divides within the industry itself (“How do we address all of this while still ensuring that we have inclusive growth?” and “We have to stop selling the same old thing. South Africa is a country that enjoys high repeat visitors: what new products are encouraging them to come back? What new technologies can we develop to sell experiences?”).

Of course it’s early days yet, but the work’s begun and that’s the important thing. As Mmatšatši said, “Tourism is everybody’s business, and therefore it’s every official’s business.”

We’ll be following the discussions with interest.

So how can you contribute to fixing tourism? Please join the conversation by commenting below.


Image: Jamie Mink via unsplash.com