Tourism: South Africa’s gold mine

2010-04-23 00:00

CONSIDER an industry that contributes over eight percent of our gross domestic product (GDP) — more than the gold mining industry — and employs more than 413 000 people directly, and over a million indirectly. That’s tourism. The nearly 10 million tourists who visit South Africa every year (up from one million in 1990) currently spend more than R74 billion each year in our country. Tourism is in fact South Africa’s new gold mine, with great potential to develop our economy further and lift large numbers of our citizens out of poverty.

Before that can happen, there are significant challenges to overcome.

Firstly, we believe that SA Tourism, our country’s marketing arm, is critically underfunded and needs a total budget closer to R1 500 million (that’s the amount its Australian counterpart enjoys). It currently gets about R600 million, and deep cuts to SA Tourism’s budget during the medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF) period has exacerbated the problem.

Extra funding needs to be spent wisely. If it is, we can get a real return for that investment, by attracting billions of rands more to our economy.

Secondly, serious crime, eight to 10 times above international norms, and dysfunctional public transport with serious security concerns in a number of key tourist destinations remain challenges. South Africa needs to meet these challenges successfully before tourism’s full potential can be realised. Once we’ve met these challenges, we also need to demonstrate to the world that we have done that.

The third issue is 2010. In many respects, this year’s Fifa World Cup will be the most significant milestone in our country’s history since the advent of democracy in 1994. In its broadest sense, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to roll back Afro-pessimism and the resulting underinvestment in our country and continent. We can show the world that, as Africans, we can not only successfully host the greatest ever World Cup, but also roll out stadium infrastructure, telecommunications and transport upgrades to world-class standards.

It is also an opportunity for South Africans to unite as never before and recapture the spirit of the Rugby World Cup of 1995 as we come together as one nation with one future behind one team.

But we must also aim to bequeath to our country an expanded and enhanced tourism brand and infrastructure that will become the dynamo that fires up future tourism and economic growth long after the World Cup. Each one of us has a role to play.

So here’s what we can all do:

• Whether we are providing private accommodation to visitors, transport, restaurant or tea-room facilities, souvenirs or any other service, we should not charge excessive rates, but instead ensure that South Africa retains its brand as a “value-for-money” destination, and tourists return again and again in ever greater numbers.

• Each one of us can become an ambassador by being environmentally conscious and encouraging others not to litter. Tourists are frequently shocked at how filthy some of our destinations are, and they have a choice whether to return or not.

• Let’s support the 2010 greening programme and advise our local public representatives where trees should be planted to beautify our cities, towns and villages. Time is short.

• We need to support local initiatives to get municipalities to clean and smarten up local tourist attractions, including their access routes.

• At all times, let’s roll out traditional South African hospitality and friendliness, and strengthen our brand as “Africa’s warmest welcome”.

Barcelona derived a lasting tourism benefit from the 1992 Olympics because, as a city, all stakeholders agreed to support these aims. So can we as South Africans. A successful World Cup has the potential to increase tourism by between five and 10% of present numbers, or up to one million extra tourists every year. By international standards, that’s the same as about 125 000 extra jobs. What a legacy to hand down to the next generation.

Phambili Bafana Bafana, phambili!

• Greg Krumbock is the Democratic Alliance’s Shadow Minister for Tourism and an MP for the Mooi-uMngeni constituency.

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