Vacations need to become an institution

2015-12-16 06:00
Unathi Henama, Social Observer Foto:

Unathi Henama, Social Observer Foto:

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IN a paper titled “Poverty, debt and conspi-cuous consumption: university students’ tourism experiences” Neil Carr acknowledges that discretionary income, free time and personal desire are the prime influencers on whether an individual or household takes a vacation.

The reason I am introducing this topic, is that from the beginning of this month, bakkie loads of an assortment of food items have been ferried to households as the stokvels and the societies, the mainstream banking system of African blacks, deliver dividends.

I know people who are members of up to eight societies, with some even having a uniform.

Stokvels are an excellent way for savings accumulation and this has worked well for generations of black people, which were excluded by the formal banking system.

On the other hand, I have observed the way that black people plan meticulously for the event of death by having several funeral policies. It is impossible to watch prime time television on SABC1 between 19:00 and 21:00 and miss an advertisement for a funeral policy.

Kaizer Chiefs, with its Hollard funeral policy, keeps on sending me SMSs and emails, even when I indicate that I am covered.

On a recent visit to a friend of mine, he produced his payslip from work and I was amazed to see so many deductions from several companies for funeral policies. I was shocked, as those deductions looked like a well-typed assignment.

Then it hit me: We are so scared of death that we over-prepare for it.

I have heard people telling others that they were not invited to a funeral of their dearly departed.

As with everything, there is a serious consumer culture related to the burial industry.

Today you can even hire people to fill up the grave, as today’s grave attendees sport designer wear and cannot be seen doing blue-collar activities.

It does not end there. Today there is even a company from which you can hire mourners to give the dearly departed a dramatic send-off.

If you took this package, an insult would be hurled, or a dramatic descent ensured by the screaming, shouting and moaning of a “hired’’ mourner. This would add drama to the proceedings at graveyard and ensure that your funeral is the talk of the town.

The funeral business now fits into the prevalent consumer culture in which we find ourselves.

In all honesty, you are more secured of a meal at a funeral than at a wedding, as black people over-prepare for death.

Taking a holiday is yet to be considered a need by blacks in South Africa. The prevalent discourse is that blacks do not have the money to travel and enjoy the jewels of the country – this is far from the truth.

I am of the view that the major impact that dampens black tourism consumption is personal desire. Desire can be an outcome of stimuli from marketing outlays, such as the millions of advertisements of funeral policies that result in people being overly covered.

There is a need to market tourism consumption as a need in a sustained manner, so that taking holidays is institutionalised.

In a paper titled “The Habit of Holidays”, Bodi Blichfeldt argues that there are “traditional institutions” such as family, school and religion, and that a behavioural pattern such as a family’s annual vacations away from home can qualify an institution.

The importance of institutionalisation is based on the fact that vacation decision­making requires a structure, and this human experience must be planned, budgeted for and consumed.

The behaviour must be assimilated and it must become part of a yearly pilgrimage “away from home”. This is important for increasing black participation as tourism consumers.

Black tourism under apartheid was linked to visiting friends and relatives, while there was a thriving domestic market among whites.

Just like the stokvels rally people to spend on groceries, there is a need to encourage societies for travel purposes. This would ensure we expose South Africans to the beauty South Africa has to offer.

Each June thousands of state employees are faced with the daunting task of having to take several weeks off work, as their leave days will lapse. If taking vacations during that time had been institutionalised by marketing outlays from tourism product owners, they would be certain of high occupancy rates.

Taking vacation has a social benefit, as clients come back rejuvenated, and make better employees, after taking time off. Taking vacations therefore increases the quality of life of people.

We must encourage all South Africans to travel and learn more about this great country.

  • Unathi Sonwabile Henama is a member of the Black Management Forum and teaches tourism at the Tshwane University of Technology. He writes in his personal capacity.

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