German businesses to SA: Protect wildlife, relax Visa regulations and improve diversity in tourism sector

Stand up for wildlife protection, improve black ownership in the tourism space and make it easier for families to travel together, German businesses told stakeholders in SA's tourism industry.

German trade partners had an opportunity to raise their concerns about their experiences operating in SA's tourism industry at a roundtable discussion at the 53rd Internationale Tourismus-Borse (ITB) world trade show in Berlin, Germany on Wednesday.

SA Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona opened the discussion and said SA was starting to think differently about tourism to cater for the modern-day tourist who seeks authenticity, life-changing experiences and tailored offerings.

He said the things that worked 30 years ago won't necessarily be useful in successfully growing the industry going forward. The round-table discussion provided an opportunity for feedback on the experience of German tourists so that SA could better respond to client needs, Ntshona explained. 

Knowledgeable guides

Ingo Lies, founder of German tour operating company Chamäleon-Reisen, put forward that SA needed to work on the quality of its guides, and said it is not enough for guides to speak German. They also have to be knowledgeable.

"There is more to [being a guide] nowadays. If you want to attract the younger generation, there are different issues to address," he said.

Ntshona responded by saying steps are being taken to redefine what a tour guide means to attract new clients.

Lies also called for more diversity in SA's tourism space, specifically in terms of locally-owned and operated business and especially in terms of black business. Similarly Andre Thomas, senior product manager for Africa at German tour operator FTI Touristik, also raised concerns about the diversity in the tourism sector and said that more black businesses should be brought into mainstream tourism.

"I think that tourism needs to be made sexy and [needs to be] brought into schools. Students and scholars need to be educated on how the tourism chain works and industry works," Thomas said.

"We need to have more black faces in the tourism industry as business owners and business providers with access to the international market."

Thomas said that it was not just up to bodies like SA Tourism to address diversity challenges, but all stakeholders including private companies and government departments had a role to play too.

In response, Ntshona explained that the lack of black ownership was due to the country's legacy.

Visa requirements also made it difficult for tourists to travel with their families, Lies pointed out. In his response Ntshona said the Visa regulations were an "own goal" and had not been well thought out in terms of legislation.

"It was done with the right intention, but the execution had consequences," Ntshona admitted. "We are in the process of undoing it to make it simple for people to travel with children. At the very least, we want to be on par with the rest of the world in terms of ... travel with children," he explained.

Environmentally friendly

Lies also raised issues related to the environment. "We would like to see SA stand up for wildlife protection," he said. Lies explained this would help attract a younger market.

He also asked for the SA industry to take steps to reduce plastic consumption particularly at various tourist accommodation options. "As tour operators, we try to make trips plastic free," he said.

Ntshona said that wildlife protection would start with consumer education. As an example he referred to how circuses stopped using animals after consumers became aware of the cruelty towards animals, eventually circuses stopped incorporating animals in shows because consumer demand dropped.

As for plastic use, Ntshona said plastic straws could hardly be found in Cape Town and that South Africans used social media to actively name and shame businesses which still use plastic straws.

Between 2015 and 2018, German arrivals grew by 33%, and of these 40% were repeat visitors, Ntshona highlighted.

"You love us very much, we want to thank you very much for loving us, please continue to love us," he said.

Germany is one of the three key markets to South Africa, the others being the UK and the US.

*Fin24 is a guest of SA Tourism, which is exhibiting at ITB Berlin.

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