The issue of safety and security has become a severe threat to South Africa's very important tourism sector, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa told the local industry in Cape Town on Tuesday.
SA Tourism (SAT) surveys in 18 countries have shown that foreign travellers see safety and security perceptions as a barrier when considering SA as a destination.
"If we don't do something about safety and security, the SA tourism industry will 'go south' and we will see fewer and fewer tourists coming here," he cautioned at a TBCSA member event.
This would mean fewer jobs and no more growth in the local industry.
"It seems there are safety and security incidents almost every day now – be it tourist groups that are attacked or a tourist that was robbed. Videos are doing the rounds of people being followed home and robbed," he said.
He told Fin24 that it was also important to spread the message that there are thousands of tourists who leave SA every day without having experienced anything negative during their journey.
'We have prioritised the issue'
"Of course safety and security is a concern for us and a threat to our industry and that is why we as an industry is going to do something about it. We will announce something soon. We have prioritised the issue and will be announcing a measure to deal with it in the next few weeks," he said.
This will be a private sector initiative based on extensive discussions. TBCSA also recently met with the minister of tourism in this regard as a matter of urgency.
"We know the situation in the country. We all live here. We can sit and complain and argue about whether the police will be effective or not, but the bottom line is that we need to protect the tourism industry and be able to tell tour operators that we are open for business and will do what is needed to provide safety and security," said Tshivhengwa.
"Interventions around safety and security are critical, but again, there are many other destinations with similar challenges. It is about how you navigate these challenges. We are resillient as a sector. Yes, the issue of safety and security is there and we need to deal with it."
'They want to see a plan'
Stembiso Dlamini, acting CEO of SA Tourism (SAT), said at the event that during a recent international road show, the issue of safety and security was raised by trade partners in the market.
"They want to see a tangible plan of how we plan to deal with it. It became clear that, if we really want to play as a destination, we have to take issues of safety and security very seriously," she emphasised.
She told Fin24 that SAT realises South Africans need to be educated about the important role each tourist plays in creating jobs.
"We need to put a face to tourism and come up with campaigns to showcase the depth and breadth of SA and that it is a safe destination," she said.
"Once you educate South Africans on the value of tourism, they will be better hosts. We can also provide tourists with safety tips about our destination. SA Tourism will work with government and the private sector to address the issue to ensure our destination is safe, especially at tourist hot spots. So, it is a partnership role we will play."
David Frost, CEO of the Southern African Tourism Services Association (SATSA), told the audience that Columbia used to have an image of drugs and attacks. The Columbian government decided to do something about it and since it had made 2 000 routes safe in the country, tourist numbers have increased from a million to 4 million per year.
"If we are going to have the incident rate of attacks on tourists we currently have – and in some parts of the country there are almost daily accounts of such incidents - we can do all the marketing we want, but these incidents will just erode our efforts," he warned.
"Our brand as a country seems to be 'invisible at best and smelly at worst'. So, we have work to do a lot to reposition our brand."
Safety and security is also an issue for domestic tourists in SA. Research by SA Tourism has shown that not only are South Africans concerned about safety on roads when they travel, but they worry about whether their homes will be safe while they are away.