THE RECENT outrage levelled against Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom and his department over the new visa regulations has conveniently shifted the focus away from a critical issue facing our country – the failure by the government to promote and expand domestic tourism in South Africa and hit its own targets.
Domestic tourism figures across South Africa are on the decline as South Africans simply cannot afford to travel within their own borders. South African Tourism’s Annual Report for the 2013/14 financial year shows that one of the department’s strategic objectives was to increase the number of domestic travellers to 15 million.
Its actual achievement was only 12 million domestic travellers over this period, which was 20 percent below target and a drop of 500 000 domestic travellers when compared with the 2012/13 season.
Domestic tourism in South Africa is shrinking. When the international trend is tourism growth, why are our citizens doing less travel?
The Department of Tourism is clearly aware of the main reason behind this decline. Its Domestic Tourism Growth Strategy 2012-2020 states that the biggest inhibiting factor to domestic tourism is the perception that travel is not affordable.
Tourism and travel for South Africans are just too expensive. For example, a family of four would end up paying R920 for a trip to Robben Island. Robben Island has announced that it will be increasing its ticket prices.
What an insult
This is reprehensible. A critical piece of our people’s history will cost a South African citizen almost R1 000 to visit as a family. This will put it out of reach for many average South African families. Where is the national pride in that? What an insult to our reconciliation as a nation.
In order to maximise the gains arising from entry fees to various government-owned facilities and not restrict their local population from experiencing and connecting with its own heritage, many countries have introduced a dual pricing system. Dual pricing, whereby foreign visitors are asked to pay different fees than domestic visitors, means that South Africans, whose tax money already funds these attractions, get major discounts to visit them. Now that sounds attractive.
While implementing a two-tier pricing system might be difficult, certain attractions such as Table Mountain already make it possible for locals to visit for free, simply by presenting their South African ID on the day of their birthday. Another example is the Kruger National Park with its dual pricing system for South Africans and foreign visitors.
Therefore these models already exist in South Africa. We need more of these models throughout the entire country to boost tourism in untapped rural areas.
Price attractions for high-volume, not for low-volume will follow, leading to the surrounding economy thriving. It is without doubt that tourism can be used as an effective tool to create jobs, provide opportunities for small businesses, promote livelihoods for communities and bring South Africans together.
The solution is the introduction of a campaign titled, “Experience My South Africa”, which will focus specifically on encouraging South Africans to get out and explore our country, while addressing affordability issues and limited geographic spread.
This initiative would allow for all South Africans to gain free or discounted entry to government-owned national parks, forests, reserves, museums and the like, on non-religious public holidays in the country.
It is our belief that this “Experience My South Africa” campaign will help to stimulate domestic tourism growth and open up South Africa to be experienced by our locals. This in turn should also help to stimulate job creation and economic growth within surrounding communities.
Currently, there are a number of examples of poorly developed and maintained government-funded tourist attractions that remain sorely underused. In response to my parliamentary question, I was informed that an audit has been conducted, which identified approximately 700 resorts that are being underutilised.
Again, the solution is to establish partnerships with the private sector to convert these resorts into affordable “budget” holiday destinations, which if implemented, would go a long way in boosting domestic tourism figures. We need real measures to ensure that tourism is made affordable. If we get this right, more employment opportunities and more emerging small businesses will be created.
I will submit my proposals to Parliament’s tourism portfolio committee for inclusion in the Tourism Sector Strategy and Departmental strategic objectives.
Tourism has proved that it is a labour intensive sector and continues to create a substantial number of direct and indirect jobs. In 2013 the tourism sector created 144 000 jobs, which is equivalent to 12 percent of all jobs created in South Africa.
The National Development Plan recognises tourism as one of the main drivers of the country’s economy and employment. The plan envisages the promotion of South Africa as a major tourist destination, with unique features, to boost tourist numbers and enable tourism to contribute to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction. The job creation index indicates that the tourism industry is responsible for 1 in every 25 jobs in South Africa, while one job is created for every 12 tourist arrivals.
Domestic tourism can specifically be used as an effective tool to break down barriers in South Africa and open up this country to be explored by a large portion of the population who are currently excluded from enjoying this experience.
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