Members of the Select Committee on Trade and International Relations have voiced concerns about the negative impact perceptions about safety have on the tourism sector’s ability to contribute to the economy, as well as the low intake for domestic tourism.
Committee Member Mr Willem Faber sought clarity on a comment he attributed to the Minister of Tourism about South Africa being a safe tourist destination, in light of the fact that the United States has previously warned its citizen through an embassy statement that South Africa is not safe.
“This (statement) impacts on our tourism economy. This is not a safe country. A lot of international visitors ask if they will be safe when coming here,” Mr Faber said.
Deputy Minister of Tourism Ms Thokozile Xasa accompanied a high-powered delegation of SA Tourism to Parliament to present the annual performance and strategic plans for the entity.
Ms Xasa told the Committee that tourism was the fastest-growing sector. “We are looking into developing and promoting emerging tourism businesses with the intention to grow them and make sure they are sustainable,” she said.
She said R100 million has been set aside to promote domestic tourism, noting that domestic markets have been identified as cultural, township and ocean tourism.
The Committee heard that SA is still a safe destination compared to many other parts of the world.
Committee Member Mr Boingotlo Nthebe said perceptions about safety are an issue. He cited an example of a recent trip to Zambia where he had heard stories about incidents of xenophobia. “But when we got to Zambia, none of that was happening. We walked between the conference venue and the hotel, and we had lunch in a nearby mall. Safety was not an issue,” Mr Nthebe said.
He said South Africa remains a safe country to visit, despite isolated incidents. He urged SA Tourism to get South Africans excited about local tourism.
The Chairperson of SA Tourism Board, Ms Tanya Abrahamse, shared her view that safety is an issue worldwide, but it was not a good idea to say that tourists are safe when locals are not. “But the challenge is that safety is not our core business. As much as we want it, some other people will have to come and play their role. Travelling is good for the economy.”
Johannesburg – The struggling tourism industry has recorded its highest performance growth in four years as a result of an increase in the number of domestic tourists who visited the country’s key attractions during the festive season.
The Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA) said yesterday that its figures for 2015 showed the industry grew more than 20 points in the fourth quarter compared with a similar period in 2014.
The council said the industry achieved a better-than-expected score of 106.5 points in the fourth quarter compared with an anticipated but more subdued score of 94.2 during the same period in 2014. But it warned that the outlook for the first quarter of 2016 would be slightly below the acceptable 100 level, falling to 94.2 points.
TBCSA chief executive Mmatsatsi Ramawela said domestic tourism had outperformed overseas visitors despite a weak exchange rate that could have served as a stimulus for inbound tourists.
Ramawela said the last months of the year had proved to be the money spinner for the industry. “The festive season is typically one of our busiest times, presenting the trade with the opportunity to do some good business when many people, particularly locals, take some time off to travel,” Ramawela said.
“After a tough three quarters of trade, we’ve been anxiously looking towards the festive period for some welcomed reprieve in the market.”
The tourism industry took a huge knock last year following the introduction of controversial visa regulations in June, which required among other things that foreigners who wanted to visit South Africa apply for visas in person at South African embassies abroad. The regulations also demanded that parents travelling in or out of South Africa with minors be in possession of an unabridged birth certificate.
A leading hotelier in Cape Town said yesterday that while it expected an increase in the number of foreign visitors at this time of the year, the bookings were low as potential tourists remained confused about the rules.
“We have not seen a high volume of bookings from our potential clients overseas,” said the hotelier, who refused to be named.
Today’s tourists look for destinations that reflect their ethics. They want to visit real communities and have real interactions with real people.
“You can’t outsource responsibility,” says Harold Goodwin, a stalwart of the global move towards sustainable and meaningful tourism.
Giving the keynote speech at the 11th Responsible Tourism in Destinations conference – part of Africa Travel Week and World Travel Market Africa being held in Cape Town this week – Goodwin stressed the need for individuals in the South African tourism industry to make significant changes to the way they do business to make tourism more meaningful and sustainable.
“The argument for responsible tourism was made, and won, years ago in the United Kingdom and Europe,” says Goodwin. “The behaviour of tourists travelling from these markets has already adjusted, leaving them wanting authentic, genuine and sincere travel experiences, and yet the South African industry still insists on being provided with evidence that inbound tourists want sustainable and ethical, responsible holidays.”
Goodwin says today’s British and European tourists are “responsibly aware”, demanding long-haul holidays that offer local flavour and authentic experiences.
“They want to visit ‘real’ local communities and have ‘real’ interactions with ‘real’ people. They increasingly understand the political, economic and social impact their holiday choices have and look for destinations which support and reflect their ethics. They choose products and destinations that offer unique experiences, create a sense of place and contribute meaningfully to communities. They also understand that no two communities are ever exactly the same.”
Responsibility is free
Goodwin, professor of responsible tourism management at Leeds Beckett University in the UK, adds that making tourism “better” – better for tourists, better for tourism employees, better for local people and better for the environment – is the right thing to do.
He believes the South African tourism industry must stop insisting on being given a business case for responsibility, because there is none.
“You can either choose to be responsible or you can choose to be irresponsible. It’s a choice you make. Responsibility is free, it’s there on the shelf and you can take as much of it or as little as you like, any time you like.”
Responsible tourism means being responsible and ethical at every level of a tourism business. It is a choice of how to operate, not a marketing tool.
South Africa cannot afford to rest on its laurels, and has largely failed to capture the mass European market, says Garry Wilson, mainstream product and purchasing director of the world’s largest integrated travel group, TUI Travel. He effectively holds the world’s biggest chequebook when it comes to purchasing global travel products and he sees a lot of potential for tourism growth in the South African market if it can adopt a more responsible approach.
Although traditional inbound markets like the UK remain stable, South Africa has not seen significant growth from them over the past few years, and the number of visitors from emerging markets like China and India is in sharp decline.
Choosing how to operate
The marketing of the country as a tourism destination is handled by the government-funded South African Tourism, which does not actively draw attention to businesses or tourism products that are responsible and meet the ethical needs of visitors.
Responsible tourism is often misconstrued by marketers and industry professionals who present traditional culture and community activities that don’t offer sustainable benefits to local people.
“South Africa needs to focus much more on the transition to responsible, sustainable tourism practices and the development of products and infrastructure that support them,” says Wilson.
The challenge is to design better products, more effectively market those products and make tourism more inclusive and accessible, all of which are critical to sustainable tourism growth.
“Being responsible in the tourism arena helps to lower costs, has significantly lower impact on the environment, contributes to building better places for people to live and consequently better places for people to visit. It just makes perfect sense.”
Source: Mail & Guardian
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