Cape Town - It is very important that the Cape Town water crisis does not lead to South Africa's tourism sector losing the momentum built up in creating international awareness of the destination the last number of years.
This was the plea sent out by Sisa Ntshona, CEO of SA Tourism (SAT).
"We worked so hard to get South Africa on the international tourism map that it is important not lose that momentum. Then the cost to the industry and the country will be far greater [than that due to the water crisis]," he said during a Wesgro webinar on the plight of the Mother City.
"We must protect SA as a destination and make sure that when we speak as the [tourism] authority and also as the trade itself, that we are aligned. We don’t have all of the answers. We are trying to engage with the industry and solicit support."
Ntshona emphasised that as the drought in the Western Cape drought worsens, it is apparent that closer co-operation and action are needed to overcome the problems faced by the industry.
He emphasised Cape Town facing water challenges due to drought is not a new phenomenon in the global tourism industry. He named California as an example.
"SA just happens to be at front end of it. We are leading the way on how to deal with it. We have spoken to California on how to deal with the challenge," he said.
"We are asked how can say Cape Town be open for [tourism] business when there is a drought. We are asked if tourists won't take water from the locals. But water consumption by tourists is only 1% in Cape Town. At the same time many people rely on the tourism industry for jobs. That is why we have to find a balance."
In order to save the tourism sector in Cape Town, he proposes that a well-coordinated approach is needed.
"One must look at the ratio of tourists we have compared to the financial contribution they make to the city. We understand that emotions are running high. That is why part of our campaign is to educate and inform the public. Tourists contribute to the gross domestic product (GDP) and must form part of the solution of how water resources are used," said Ntshona.
"We are pushing hard internationally to make sure we don't lose the momentum of the message that SA is open for business. The tourism industry must become part of the process to find solutions, secure jobs and grow GDP."
Wesgro CEO Tim Harris said the agency can supply anyone interested to know whether the city can still host tourists and events with the necessary answers.
"We have a lot of resources to help organisers make an event water neutral," said Harris.
He said Wesgro also has a map of areas where there are no water restrictions.
"Tourists must understand this is not a unique situation. There are areas in Australia and California which also went through the impact of droughts. We are open for business like those other destinations," said Harris.
"I am confident that through water saving efforts by locals the date for Day Zero can be moved back. And even if we meet Day Zero, there are plenty of destinations around the Cape without water restrictions."
He pointed out that CBDs will not have their water turned off and added that Wesgro can try to assist small businesses to face the water challenge.
* Sign up to Fin24's top news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO FIN24 NEWSLETTER