‘Help us, help you’ – Tourism sector pledges to support South Africa’s economic recovery given the opportunity and an enabling environment

Tourism stakeholders should prioritise strong private-public partnerships and sing off the same hymn sheet if South Africa is going to reignite the economy out of these Covid-19 stormy waters.

This according to #IAmTourism lobby spokesperson Thembi Kunene-Msimang. “We’ve taken the first step by announcing a date for the reopening of South African borders, thus providing some confidence to our international customers and airlines. But beyond our reopening as an international Tourism destination is the need for political support at the highest level of Government so that Tourism-friendly policies can be enacted and market failures that affect Tourism be addressed.

“The sector cannot grow to its full potential unless several interventions are introduced swiftly to improve our competitiveness as a Tourism destination, drive demand and contribute significantly in reigniting South Africa’s economy.”

Kunene-Msimang underscores 5 key enablers that have been highlighted by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, some of which are reiterated in the National Department of Tourism’s Recovery Strategy:

1. Air Access

As a catalyst for Tourism, South Africa is in desperate need of air liberalisation and an immediate national initiative to drive route take-up. The example of Cape Town Air Access (CTAA) has shown the success of stakeholders collaborating in air route development. With a relatively small budget, CTAA has from 2015 – 2019 brought in 10 new airlines, 15 new routes and 20 route expansions.

The Department of Tourism’s Recovery Strategy does provide for the formation of a national air access unit responsible for countrywide route support and development, as well as the implementation of a comprehensive air service development programme.

2. Health and Hygiene Safety Protocols

The continued widespread adoption of the health and hygiene safety protocols is critical. These protocols were created collaboratively by the Tourism sector through the Tourism Business Council of South Africa and endorsed by the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Medical experts confirm that if these protocols are adhered to, South Africa should be able to manage the risks posed by COVID-positive travellers, as well as those situations where

travellers can be infected within South Africa’s borders. Much of South Africa is already in this position – with all open businesses subject to health protocols.

The question that will help balance lives and livelihoods must be: “What is the difference between a South African who is COVID-positive travelling across the country vs a foreign tourist doing the very same?”

In its Tourism Recovery Strategy, the Department of Tourism recommends introducing national Norms and Standard for safe tourism operations, inspired by globally recognised biosecurity protocols across the value chain to enable safe travel and rebuild traveller confidence. It acknowledges that the tourism sector has been proactive in establishing biosecurity protocols that reduce transmission risk across all sub-sectors and can adapt to changing requirements and best practice.

3. Favourable visa regime

Temporary visa waivers should be considered for key markets as direct or indirect airlift is introduced. Additionally, a comprehensive visa waiver review is necessary to consider how visa waivers can enable tourism while still supporting national security. Further, a real e-visa is required, preferably by January 2021 at the latest. We have to have a best-of-breed world-class fully automated e-visa, or else we will fall further behind our competitors.

The National Department of Tourism has highlighted the need to remove barriers to travel and enable freer entry. “Frictionless visa and immigration processes and policies will need to form part of an improved destination value proposition post-crisis,” it says.

It further acknowledges that the piloting and rollout of the proposed e-visa system to simplify the visa and entry process is important. Competitor destinations Australia and New Zealand have set up two of the benchmark systems globally, and, since many popular destinations (e.g. France, USA, Spain, China, Italy, Germany and the UK) do not currently offer an e-visa, an opportunity for competitive advantage exists.

4. Tourism safety and security

To minimise crime against tourists and give tourists confidence that they are safe, we need significantly more, effective, and highly visible policing in all tourist hotspots. This could be through special tourist accredited police (metro or SAPS) and the roll-out of the Tourism Monitors programme, both at scale.

According to the Department of Tourism’s Recovery Strategy, safety and security are consistently one of the biggest barriers to visitor conversion.

As such it has recommended intensifying work on tourism safety using its safety monitors programme and partnership with the police and relevant stakeholders. From a tourism safety perspective, the Department pledges to continue to work with the police to deal with hotspots and further roll out its comprehensive programme on tourist safety.

5. Collaboration – private and public, whole of state

In addition to a private-public partnership between South African Tourism and the private sector to implement effective and coordinated international destination marketing, we need a whole-of-state approach for Tourism to flourish. The Tourism industry is multi-faceted and policies, laws, regulations and actions in most national government departments may, or do, affect tourism. South Africa must develop mechanisms to ensure that Tourism participates fully in the economic cluster and that its needs are understood in other ministries.

To quote SA Tourism and the National Department of Tourism’s Recovery Strategy (2020): “South Africa is one of a small group of truly aspirational destinations on earth. To many travel consumers, the country is a dream experience, combining powerful social justice history, breath-taking natural beauty, and warm, welcoming people. South Africa can therefore aspire to a tourism economy that drives growth and fosters development.

“To capture the opportunity requires an urgent response to the current crisis, but also a recognition of the structural factors that have acted as a drag on tourism growth. The tourism sector’s potential far exceeds previous levels and while the crisis has been catastrophic, long-term growth potential is undiminished.”

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