Cape Town - Despite the announcement that the SA Tourism industry would get a R2bn budget injection in the coming financial year, the Democratic Alliance says there are still holes in the government's strategy, and that more emphasis should be placed on affordable domestic travel, easing visa restrictions into the country and promoting cruise travel.
DA Tourism Minister James Vos was responding to SA Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom's Tourism Budget speech, in which he highlighted the key projects on which the R2bn tourism budget would be spent in the coming financial year.
Affordable, domestic travel
SA Tourism highlighted various new projects and programmes on which they will be focusing, including the improvement and support of various responsible tourism initiatives. The sustainable infrastructural upgrading of various attractions are also on the cards, SA Tourism said.
But, Vos says, the government failed to inspire confidence that it would be making domestic travel more appealing and affordable to South Africans.
Vos says that along with improving infrastructure at higher-end facilities, like the campsites in the the Kruger National Park, "more should be done to make government-owned resorts, campsites, parks and nature reserves affordable to our citizens".
Vos says there are still more than 700 resorts, which are "underutilized in SA". These resorts - camping sites, hot springs and entry-level budget accommodation offerings, which were "built with tax-payers' money - are currently, ironically, a huge liability for municipalities".
Vos says the government must look into the "numerous poorly-developed and maintained, government-funded tourist sites" as as and added solution to all the planned, sustainable tourism growth prospects they have laid out. He says South Africa’s tourism growth potential rate justifies the need to invest more in tourism infrastructure.
Hanekom touched on how biometric data capturing should be utilized to harness international travel influxes from mainly China and other BRICS countries, but Vos says easing travel restrictions in and out of the country is not nearly a big enough priority for SA government at the moment.
The introduction of electronic visas will not only provide a real means for protecting jobs in tourism, but holds significant advantages by cutting turnaround times for the issuing of travel documentation, and are in fact more secure than existing permits.
In countries "where Electronic-Visas have been implemented, they have proven to be extremely effective, so it makes perfect sense to implement it here, given the recent visa debacle in South Africa," Vos says.
He also says that other ministries in government should not be crosscutting into the National Department of Tourism. "We cannot again have a situation whereby Home Affairs issued visa regulations without considering the tourism impact," Vos says.
Last year, following the implementation of the new visa regulations, overall SA tourist arrivals were down 6.8%, compared to arrivals recorded during 2014.
The cruise ship industry has been the fastest growing segment in the travel industry around the world, and SA's coastline stretches more than 2 500km around the tip of Africa. Yet this immense and rich market is not being utilized to its full potential.
Vos says dedicated cruise liner infrastructure could serve as a platform upon which further port facilities can be developed and built.
In 2015, Transnet National Ports Authority awarded the V&A Waterfront as the preferred bidder for an estimated R179 million investments that will cover the construction and operation of a dedicated cruise terminal.
The V&A Waterfront’s vision for the cruise terminal is to scale the retail offering up or down in response to demand, in addition to baggage handling services, immigration desks and infrastructure and customs facilities. A conservative estimates set at about 10 000 visitors to the province each year, would generate around R200m for the local economy.
But, Vos says there are a number of hurdles, including technology innovatio, to fully tapping into the cruise industry's potential.
In Durban, work to get the proposed 'leading cruise destination' up and running has been slow. The city’s attempts to find the right bidder for its new cruise terminal have not been successful as yet, with plans eventually being put on hold.
Tourism KwaZulu-Natal, however, holds strong that the cruise terminal on SA's east coast could serve as a massive gateway to trade in the Southern hemisphere, presenting ample opportunities for cruise tourism development.
"This could have a beneficial impact, not only on the port city, but the national economy, through an increase in maritime trade and cruise tourism," says Vos.