The hijacking of PMB Tourism is illegal

2010-12-20 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG Tourism (formerly the Pietermaritzburg Publicity Association) is once again under threat of closure.

The proposed hijacking of PMB Tourism by the beleaguered Msunduzi Municipality is illegal because it does not belong to the municipality. It is an independent organisation owned and run by its members, of which the municipality is only one. The executive committee of PMB Tourism is accountable to more than 200 members who elected it and collectively they must agree whether it should be disbanded and its functions surrendered to a dysfunctional municipality.

Nevertheless, the city will come to regret that Melanie Veness, who has successfully marketed our attractions for the past 10 years, has resigned to become CEO of the local Chamber of Commerce and Industry. But her move is not surprising, as she has for some time bravely and frustratingly struggled to keep PMB Tourism going with insufficient funding from the municipality.

What is particularly unpalatable is that Veness and her committee have not been criticised or challenged to improve their activities. The fact is that PMB Tourism and its predecessor have since 1931 been faithful and dedicated servants to its members and citizens, so why fix something that isn't broken? Ratepayers should also question why the municipality has duplicated PMB Tourism's functions by forming its own public relations department under Brian Zuma. I suspect that this was done with the intention of eventually starving PMB Tourism of funding before attempting to absorb it into the municipality.

PMB Tourism's constitution sets out membership categories, which includes representation from the Msunduzi Municipality, Chamber of Commerce and Industry members, and local tourism industry role players. It should be funded mainly by the municipality, and private enterprise also contributes through membership subscriptions.

It is shameful that income initiated by PMB Tourism (Art in the Park is an example) exceeds funding allocated by the municipality that should cover basic administration expenses. Instead, Veness has been forced to divert money she raised on her own initiative to bolster administration costs, as staff salaries have to be paid before anything can be spent on marketing the city. Paltry municipal funding means that the community will not achieve the full benefits of tourism income.

The Msunduzi council has consistently ignored Act 117 of 1998, introduced by the ANC government when restructuring local government bodies, which states unequivocally that local and district municipalities must fund the promotion of tourism. However, many councillors have little or no understanding of tourism and consequently tend to ignore requests for funding. They do not realise that money coming into the community from tourism helps to pay for local services like road repairs, grass cutting, rubbish removal and sewerage (past tense, of course).

It is essential that a substantial allocation is made annually in the municipal budget to ensure that tourism is exploited to its full potential to attract wealth into the community. Tourism affects everyone — every citizen, business, organisation and group. It is essentially a community industry, with its benefits depending on the extent to which everyone joins hands to work together, and every business reaps the benefits either directly or indirectly.

Those of us who have been in the tourism industry for more than 30 years have learnt that successful destination marketing organisations are formed around the same fundamental principle: appropriate tourism business can be attracted to a destination more effectively through a representative organisation rather than through independent actions or a municipal bureaucracy.

PMB Tourism serves as a co-operative representing all components of the destination's tourism industry — hotels, bed-and-breakfast venues, self-catering establishments, restaurants, tour operators, tourist attractions, transport carriers, the retail and commercial resources that are important to tourists, and the municipality,

Each component of the local tourism industry is very competitive, yet they all share that competitive spirit with PMB Tourism to ensure that it is an effective destination-marketing organisation (DMO) able to carry out a comprehensive, unified marketing campaign on behalf of the community. It is the city's single most important marketing body, which must project a positive image of the destination into the various markets.

Most successful DMOs are independent organisations, but a few unfortunately remain under municipal control. I say "unfortunately" because an independent DMO allows for greater market flexibility and strength, and provides a more acceptable image in the tourism industry and sponsoring bodies.

The interdependent relationships among a destination's tourism businesses require the astute impartiality of the DMO in creating competitive marketing programmes for targeted tourist markets (such as conferences, trade shows and sports events). Skilled leadership by PMB Tourism brought together local civic, business, political and tourism industry role players. It is there for the community's benefit, not for the benefit of ANC politicians and their cadres who want to get their hands on more money.

PMB Tourism currently transcends any political, individual or business entity, serving as a resource centre for entrepreneurs and planners who need assistance, providing vital contact names and local information, identifying local facilities, acting as a conference management consultant, recommending venues and services, suggesting tour itineraries, and serving as a broker between a planner and the city's resources. It represents the interests of the buyer (tourist) and the seller (tour operator, hotelier).

Without the dynamic and professional role of an independent PMB Tourism, the city is less likely to make optimum use of its tourism potential. In the final instance, it is accountable to the local community. If PMB Tourism is unfortunate enough to become part of the Msunduzi Municipality it will be subjected to its administrative practices and restrictions. It will be seen as a bureaucracy not to be trusted because it is part of a political organisation.

We have all seen how municipalities have deteriorated since they became politicised — and PMB Tourism will meet a similar fate if it is hijacked. It is certain to lose the support of the community and the municipality will be forced to fork out more of the ratepayers' money to fund a new department, as the business community will certainly not pay membership subscriptions to the municipality.

The obvious solution would be to close the ineffective municipal public relations department and increase the council's annual allocation to PMB Tourism. Failing that, PMB Tourism should be taken under the wing of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry where it would at least remain viable, independent and controlled by the private sector.

• Dick Jones was director of the Pietermaritzburg Publicity Association from 1974 to 1995 and is currently administrator of the Tourism Education Trust.

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