Tourism, we need to talk about your growth

South Africa needs tourism, and tourism needs to grow. Or does it? (Need to grow, I mean.)

Martin-Hatchuel-2012-WEBIn a recent post on the WTM Responsible Tourism Blog (‘When will tourism industry start talking sensibly about growth?’), UK-based writer Jeremy Smith made the point that, “All over the world, the impacts of an ever-growing number of tourists being drawn to iconic destinations are being felt. Places are reaching – and passing – their limits.”

He said, too, that, “Budgets are still focussed on boosting overall numbers. Marketing campaigns still seek to draw people to the same flagship sights. Press releases and trade stories celebrate growth as the absolute marker of success. It’s too late to become like Bhutan. But from Bali to the Balearics communities are seeking answers. And we need to find them fast.”

South Africa leads, but…

Back in 2011, This Tourism Week reported that, “South Africa has taken the lead in making responsible tourism part of the national tourism strategy – as far back as the ‘1996 White Paper on Development and Promotion of Tourism in South Africa,’ responsible tourism was seen as the guiding principle for tourism development.” (This Tourism Week, 14 September, 2011: ‘Minster launches national standards for responsible tourism.’)

But although we’re still considered world leaders in responsible tourism, we don’t seem to have properly begun to examine the question of where tourism growth is likely to take us. Is it just about jobs? Or does mass tourism (in particular) have the potential for mass harm to our environment and (damn the irony!) the communities we so desperately want it to help?

James Vos MP, shadow minister of tourism, wrote on This Tourism Week on 15 April, 2016, that he has “moved several motions in Parliament motivating for cruise tourism to be included in the Tourism Department’s National Tourism Strategic Plan as a crucial job-creating industry for this region.” (‘V&A Waterfront’s Silo District & its new art museum are boosting west cape economy’)

But do we want that growth?

I’m not saying we do, and I’m not saying we don’t. I’m simply asking if we’ve asked. Because, as David Johnson of Southampton Solent University wrote in ‘Environmentally sustainable cruise tourism: a reality check,’ “The projected increase in cruise tourism, combined with the environmental considerations … raises a number of key sustainability issues.”

Prof. Johnson suggested that, “decision-makers in cruise tourism destinations, particularly those outside North America, need to work closely with operators to facilitate both integrated waste management and intergenerational and intra-societal equity rather than merely accept the prospect of short-term economic gain.”

Measuring what matters in tourism

Yes, these discussions are taking place around the world – but, as Anna Pollock of Conscious.Travel said in a blog post of 22 April, 2016 (‘Towards Opening a Sensible Debate on Tourism Growth‘), “It isn’t that individuals have not been asking this question for many years but, somehow, we’ve failed to kick start an industry-wide debate.”

It’s easy to see why. Everyone believes that bigger numbers will deliver their dreams: the politicians who want to tell good stories, the officials who want to solve seeming impossible economic challenges, the corporations who want to pay handsome dividends to their shareholders, the small businesspeople who what nothing much more than to survive and thrive.

But Anna argues that, “the current debate – what little there is – is missing the point. We are continuing to run a global tourism-hospitality economy in much the same way as was done when it ‘took off’ in the 1950s and 60s, despite the fact the conditions have changed in virtually every way:

  1. “We now live on a finite and full planet, transgressing many of the planetary boundaries considered essential for life to flourish.
  2. “We continue to operate as if we had to stimulate demand when there is no way we can accommodate the tsunami of demand that is gathering on our shores.
  3. “A major shift in lifestyle preferences and core human values is altering what consumers expect of companies in terms of purpose, mode of operation and outcomes; and enhanced their awareness of and concern for fragile environmental, social and cultural resources.
  4. “Instant, global and ubiquitous connectivity is accelerating the speed with which those shifts in values are shared, actions are made transparent and accountability assigned.”

Hopefully, though, everyone will soon be joining the discussion – which is why we’re looking forward to seeing what comes out of an NEF Consulting workshop that Anna will be addressing, and that’ll take place in London on the 14th of June, 2016.

According to the organisers of Measuring What Matters in Tourism, “There is increasing evidence that tourism development can generate stresses and imbalances which, within our current systems of measurement, only become visible when they reach a crisis point. It becomes clear that tourism cannot flourish without vibrant communities. The sheer scale of potential global demand for international and domestic travel will inevitably place ever- increasing pressures on these communities. The ways in which we develop targets to deliver change, and measure process, will reflect the social license operated by tourism businesses and policy makers.”

  • Will any of our South African colleagues be there?

Please go here to share your thoughts about growth in tourism – and about whether or not South Africa should be chasing growth for growth’s sake.

For detailed insights into Anna Pollock’s thinking about responsible tourism, see Please read her ground-breaking ‘Conscious Travel – not more, but better,’ and watch this video of her keynote address at the Adventure Travel World Summit in 2013.

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. (And I’ve been doing it since August, 2002.)

Backed by a team that includes web professionals (iBall Media), a graphic designer (Jo Hugo of Design,Etc.), PR consultants (interface by goji), and others, I’m here to help you develop all your communications tools: text (media releases, reports, business case studies, stories), strategies, web sites, apps, images, adverts, brochures, printing, events, and more.

Please contact me: 084 951 0574 or


Please tell your friends and colleagues about This Tourism Week and ask them to subscribe – online or by email.

Now go away on holiday – it’s in the economy’s best interests. And have a great tourism week!

Martin Hatchuel
Chartered Public Relations Professional

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