It’s time for a “Tourism Phakisa” that properly recognises the economic value of the tourism sector across government departments.
This was the message TBCSA CEO, Mmatšatši Ramawela, delivered at a discussion aimed at informing the first review of the Tourism Policy Framework since the 1996 White Paper on the Development and Promotion of Tourism in South Africa.
Opening the session, facilitator Shamilla Chettiar, DDG: Policy and Knowledge Services, said that the world has changed significantly since 1996. She said while the 1996 White Paper was appropriate for the time, a new policy framework was needed to respond to new changes in the industry. This point was made by Ramawela too. “We need to change course,” said Ramawela. “The global social economic landscape has changed and so has the business of travel and tourism.” She added that policy needs to change to reflect changes in the industry.”
Operation Phakisa is a national government initiative aimed at fast tracking the implementation of solutions to critical development issues. According to Ramawela, the tourism sector should have its own similar initiative because tourism is the only sector that has shown growth globally for six consecutive years. For this reason, she said, all departments should consider tourism when making policy. She asked that a pronouncement be made in the new policy to address how tourism be linked to all government departments.
Ramawela highlighted the departments of transport and home affairs in particular as having an impact on the tourism sector. Pointedly, Ramawela suggested that if tourism was mainstreamed across government departments, the immigration regulations that hurt tourism arrivals could have been avoided. She pointed to the US, which she said has relaxed visa regulations because of the value of tourism. Chris Zweigenthal, CEA of the Airlines Association of South Africa, highlighted that the issue of the unabridged birth certificate still had not been addressed.
Ramawela said it was “worrying” that tourism was not regarded as an economic sector. “We are simply called an industry. Is it fair?” she asked, pointing out that tourism was a major contributor to gross domestic product. “Tourism is everybody’s business,” she said.
Zweigenthal and Ramawela called for better integration between tourism and transport. Zweigenthal suggested air services need to be complimented with better links to road and rail networks. Unathi Mntonintshi, Director: Nehemiah Consulting Engineering, suggested that airport taxes could be ring-fenced so that the money collected could find its way to the aviation or tourism industries.
Some of the other issues considered during the session included the development of new platforms such as Uber and Airbnb. Ramawela said that while the industry should embrace new developments, these platforms need to be regulated. She said there should be some level of control to ensure a level playing field.
Yoliswa Mashilwane, Head of Public Policy at Uber, said the challenge governments faced was that regulation has not kept up with technological advancement. For example, she said there was no legislation recognising transport hailing platforms. She said the company has made submissions for legislation that recognises e-hailing as a standalone segment within public transport.
Closing the session, Chettiar said that key policy imperatives that the department regards as non-negotiable include the need to drive transformation, responsible tourism and skills development.
The discussion was attended by members of the tourism industry, represented by various associations, as well as representatives from the Department of Tourism at a national and provincial level. Officials from the departments of transport and home affairs were also in attendance. Chettiar said that following the session, a discussion document would be circulated to members of industry for further input. She anticipated the document would be circulated in about two weeks’ time.