Q&A: TBCSA – Challenging Times

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The Tourism Business Council of South Africa is the umbrella organisation representing organised business in the South African travel and tourism industry. Chief Executive Mmatŝatŝi Ramawela joined Business Traveller Africa for a chat about some of the challenges currently facing the country.

Q: In terms of marketing itself to the world, what is SA currently getting right?

A: The #WedoTourism campaign, where we are engendering the perspective that tourism is everybody’s business. The 5in5 Strategy. The leveraging of our positive and unique attributes as a country. The Hidden Gems programme, where good strides are being made to ensure that we do not promote only one aspect of our tourism offering. The emphasis on domestic tourism. Less fragmentation in how we market the destination. And the promotion of destination SA within regional Africa.

Q: What is it getting wrong?

A: Intra-Africa travel facilitation from an airlift perspective. This is not a challenge solely unique to South Africa, however we are seen as a leader within the continent and we need to exercise this leadership appropriately. Whilst our stakeholders have made great strides in addressing issues related to our tourism statistics, more still needs to be done to ensure the integrity of our statistics, particularly with regards to domestic tourism and the sector’s economic indicators. Ensuring synergies of the activities that take place at national, provincial and municipal/local areas is critical, particularly in terms of managing a destination brand. Skills development is still a major issue in our sector. It shows up in our inconsistent service and quality delivery. Infrastructure development is a significant driver for tourism growth. Roads need to be fixed quickly and we need to have reliable transport facilities which make it easier for tourists to move around. Air connectivity and integrated service delivery to support tourism businesses is equally critical.

Q: What was your reaction to the Minister of Tourism’s budget vote speech in May?

A: We believe he hit all the right notes, but if South Africa wants to deliver on President Ramaphosa’s challenge to the sector to double the number of people it employs, then the sector needs broader government support. We don’t believe the National Department of Tourism and the industry can do it alone. We need the full support of government from all levels, including key departments such as Home Affairs, Transport, Public Enterprises, Police, Labour, and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, just to mention the notable ones. Broader government collaboration is essential, together with the private sector to redouble our efforts and deliver on the directive.

Q: How far, do you feel, we are from scrapping the unabridged birth certificate travel requirement for visiting minors, or is it set to stay?

A: A balanced approach is important to deal with this issue. The problem of child trafficking is real and so is the problem of our porous borders. However, we need to find a way to provide support to tourism business owners and the tourism economy in general. We are encouraged by the fact that the Ministers of Tourism and Home Affairs are working together to address some of the sticking points of this issue.

Q: From where, do you believe, is South Africa’s stiffest competition coming?

A: On the continent we know that Morocco, Kenya, Egypt are some of our top competitors – these are also amongst the top performing destinations. One can also add the southern African destinations of Namibia and Mauritius, although these countries are much smaller than South Africa.

Q: How much of an impact has the change in government had on travel into and within South Africa?

A: It is important to remember that travel and tourism is affected by sentiment, whether positive or negative. When there was a change in leadership in South Africa, this was largely seen as a positive development. More people started to ‘talk up’ destination South Africa and this was reflected in more operators adding SA into the itineraries. The manner in which our President spoke about tourism in an insightful manner during his State of the Nation address also gave the impression that he understood the sector – this has been very positive for us as business.

Q: Has it had a greater impact on business or leisure travel, and can you back that up with any statistics?

A: It is too soon to back it up with the statistics, however the positive momentum can be felt across the board – particularly in the business tourism space. The increase in airlines into Johannesburg and Cape Town; BA’s decision to fly into Durban – these are all positive signs of confidence.

Q: Are you able to quantify what impact the water crisis in the Western Cape has had on business travel to the region?

A: There is a time lag, thus at this point we are not able to provide figures. But this issue is a reality that is likely to be with us for a very long time. The key is to ensure that we continue to project confidence that it’s being well managed and will not deter from a positive tourism experience.

Q: Where would you like to see the South African tourism industry in five years’ time?

A: I envision a tourism industry that reflects all of the country’s diversity, from its people to culture, food, and languages. That would complete the ‘world in one country’ narrative. An industry that embraces all that South Africa is, a country with endless possibility and innovation. An industry that is inclusive in terms of its ability to attract and retain entrepreneurs from the people of this country.