New tourist guides regulations haven’t got a chance

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom released his Draft Regulations for Tourist Guiding earlier this month, and they’re open till mid-May for public comment. But they haven’t got a chance.

Martin Hatchuel
Martin Hatchuel

This is not to say that there’s anything bad about the proposal (which you should read) – well, other than the fact that the definitions of the various classes of guides could do with major editing:

Adventure tourist guide” means a tourist guide that conduct any outdoor recreation leisure activities with an element of risk involved such as abseiling, hiking, mountain climbing, paddling etc. and the interpretation of such sites may be provided from a culture or nature perspective and having attained specific competencies to do so.

No really. Copied and pasted. And FYI, the list of categories is given as:

CLASSES OF TOURIST GUIDES – Site Tourist Guide – Provincial Tourist Guide – National Tourist Guide SPECIALISING TOURIST GUIDES – Adventure Tourist Guide – Cultural Tourist Guide – Nature Tourist Guide

No: the proposed regulations are fine as far as they go. They fulfil the requirements of the Tourism Act of 2014, and they tick all the boxes for ticking all the boxes – here’s what the form for applications for a guide’s permit must look like; here’s what the new badge will look like. That kind of thing.

But what they don’t address – and I don’t know if they even can – is the demand-side of guiding: how’s a guest to know who’s legal, and what’s a guy to do if a guide steps out of line.

Tourism Act

Perhaps this is a problem inherent in the Tourism Act, which provides for the establishment of provincial registrars of tourist guides as well as a national registrar, rather than for a single office with a single point of contact.

It looks, to my unlawyerly eye, as if the arrangement might have been designed to create a channel for appeals – if a visitor wants to complain, he or she should do so with the provincial registrar that has jurisdiction, whou should investigate, and if the guide in question doesn’t like the registrar’s decision, he or she can appeal, and the appeal must be heard by the national registrar, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah…

It’s a bog of bureaucracy that’s just too confusing.

I’ve been in tourism for 33 years, and even knowing as much as I do – and Google notwithstanding – I struggled to find my local friendly registrar when I went looking for him.

Yes, I did find registrars in the Provinces that I searched: the Western Cape (where I live), Mpumalanga (which I think I’d like to visit, stat!), and Gauteng (just for fun).

But wait. No. In Gauteng, what I actually found was the Gauteng Guides Association – which does provide a handy list of the various registrars around the country, and which makes a big thing of registered tourist guide monitors.  (Sounds creepy. Answers Juvenal’s eternal question, though: ‘But who will look after the guards themselves?’)

Consumer perspective

Think about it from the visitor’s perspective, lads: who’s going to go to all that trouble to try and find out who’s legal and who isn’t, or how to go about laying a complaint if complaining becomes necessary?

Yes, illegal guiding is a problem for South Africa: it devalues the profession, it puts trained people on the back foot, it makes it impossible to ensure that visitors receive the quality they deserve.

But unless you make it easy for them, consumers aren’t going to bother with background checks – and that makes it easy for the cowboys.

So I’m going to be writing to the Department of Tourism to suggest that the regulations need to provide for a single web site that’s run by the National Registrar; that provides a current list of all of South Africa’s registered guides; that provides clear guidelines for complaining; and that we can all use in our marketing to ensure that our visitors have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that they’re employing professionals.

Addressing the demand side of things would, as the economists say, set the garden to weed itself.

To comment on the Draft Regulations for Tourist Guiding, write to Uveshnee Pillay, Director General at the Department of Tourism – upillay@tourism.gov.za.

How can This Tourism Week help you?

I’m Martin Hatchuel, a tourism practitioner with more than 30 years of experience in the sector, and I write and publish This Tourism Week as an informed, insightful look at issues affecting tourism in South Africa.

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And have a great tourism week!

Martin Hatchuel
Chartered Public Relations Professional

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