SA tourism boss says international arrivals could double if these and other challenges are tackled and warns that doing nothing is not an option.
South Africa could be attracting as much as double the 10 million tourists currently flocking into the country yearly if it wasn’t for crime, service delivery protests and deteriorating infrastructure.
These factors, the state of our roads and other infrastructure pose a serious threat to the R40.1 billion tourism industry, the Tourism Business Council of SA has warned.
The council’s CEO, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, said crime topped the list of things tourists worry about when visiting South Africa. And if safety was not an issue, the country could be welcoming 15 million to 20 million visitors a year compared with the current 10.4 million.
One job is created for every 12 tourists.
The frequent service delivery protests, during which communities block roads leading to popular tourist sites, are a nightmare for tour operators, he said.
Tshivhengwa said: “Violence against tourists is equivalent to economic crimes such as stealing copper cables and gold, and something must be done.”
The council and the country’s other tourism stakeholders have recently been up in arms, putting pressure on Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane and the parliamentary portfolio committee on tourism to come up with solutions.
“Over the past 20 years, one of the things that tourists are worried about is their safety. This has been one of the inhibitors to growth … if it were not for this we would be sitting on 15 million to 20 million visitors a year,” Tshivhengwa said.
“As a country, we’ve got everything that any tourist would want to see and it’s quite important that they feel safe. We have, however, seen a recurrence of the same crimes against tourists in the past few months and this calls for us to look at tourism differently as it creates jobs. It’s labour intensive and doesn’t require too much infrastructure.”
Tshivhengwa said South Africa needed to deal with visa reforms in order to attract more tourists.
He said the country should be looking at unlocking the Chinese and Indian markets where economic growth is sustained.
“Leaders must look at these problems differently and carefully. People protest and block roads that lead to tourism sites.
This has an impact on tourism operators who can be sued for not living up to expectations when they have no access to places. We’ve seen tourists saying they were not going to visit Cape Town when there was a water crisis. These are all the issue leaders must look at,” Tshivhengwa said.
This year alone, a number of high profile attacks on tourists have taken place. These include 14 separate attacks on Table Mountain alone.
Ukrainian tourist, Ivan Ivanov, was attacked by three men and killed while hiking at the popular East Fort above Chapman’s Peak last month.
A group of tourists were followed from the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and attacked at African Pride Irene Country Lodge in Centurion.
They were robbed of their jewellery and cellphones.
Kubayi-Ngubane recently announced that her department was working with various stakeholders to compile a safety plan.
It will include the tourism monitors programme, the development of a safety mobile app to provide tourists with basic tourism information and safety tips with relevant contact details that tourists in distress can use.
Already 86 tourist monitors have been deployed on Table Mountain.
The department is also looking at arming tourist monitors with technology by replicating a Kruger National Park model where rangers, drones and cameras are being deployed to monitor rhino poaching.
The Mpumalanga case
In Mpumalanga, Kruger Lowveld Regional Tourism Committee chairperson, Oupa Pilane, said that nine hijackings and robberies of tourists were recorded in the past four weeks.
These incidents, Pilane said, always happened in the triangle of Sabie, Graskop and Hazyview areas but nothing has been done.
These roads lead to tourist attractions such as the Kruger National Park, the Graskop Gorge Lift and the Blyde River Canyon.
“It’s the same vehicle that has been described and the incidents take place at the same time – between 5pm and 7pm. But nothing has been done and this doesn’t need rocket science,” Pilane said.
Mpumalanga tourism, he said, was beset by a number of challenges that included service delivery protests, deteriorating roads, dilapidated tourist attractions and lack of government leadership.
“In 100 days, there were 64 service delivery protests in the Hazyview area near the Kruger National Park, which means tour operators could not bring in tourists for three months. Sometimes a tourist town like Graskop has no water … how can you bring tourists there?” Pilane said.
He also lamented that Mpumalanga seemed not to have a tourism plan in place, let alone a budget. Pilane said his committee had been trying to meet with the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) over the past four years but had failed.
The impact of all these challenges was being felt by the tourism sector, said Pilane, who co-owns the Graskop Gorge Lift.
He said he had noticed that in the last three months the facility had welcomed 6 000 fewer visitors compared to the same period last year.
MTPA spokesperson Kholofelo Nkambule said following a meeting between Kubayi-Ngubane and regional tourism organisations about three weeks ago, there would be a consultative conference of all stakeholders at the end of this month.
“At this stage we are coordinating with other relevant departments for a full response [on all the concerns] which will ultimately be presented to the MEC for economic development and tourism [Pat Ngomana] and the minister of tourism. The report will highlight plans to address those concerns,” Nkambule said.
Mpumalanga premier Refilwe Mtshweni-Tsipane said even though she did not highlight tourism in her maiden state of the province address, there was a concrete plan in place.
“We have a tourism strategy and we have a plan to deal with those problems such as bad roads,” Mtshweni-Tsipane said.
Largest tourism economy in Africa
Last year, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) annual review found that South Africa was the largest tourism economy in Africa.
Travel and tourism contributed 1.5 million jobs – or 9.2% of total employment – and injected R425.8 billion into the economy last year, representing 8.6% of all economic activity in the country.
International tourist arrivals grew by 1.8% (10.5 million) from January to December, compared with 2017.
The South African tourism industry received 64% leisure travellers while 36% were business travellers.
The WTTC has been researching the impact of tourism across 185 countries over the past 25 years.