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Thembi Kunene-Msimang, the #IAmTourism lobby spokesperson

The reopening of international borders from 01 October is a vital step for the recovery of South Afirca’s tourism industry. However, much more needs to be done to ensure this process continues as quickly and effectively as possible, to save as many jobs and livelihoods as possible.

“Beyond our reopening as an international tourism destination is the need for political support at the highest level of Government so that tourism-friendly policies can be enacted and market failures that affect tourism be addressed.”

Thembi Kunene-Msimang, the #IAmTourism lobby spokesperson, shares her ideas on how this can be done; “We’ve taken the first step by announcing a date for the reopening of South African borders, thus providing some confidence to our international customers and airlines. But beyond our reopening as an international tourism destination is the need for political support at the highest level of Government so that tourism-friendly policies can be enacted and market failures that affect tourism be addressed.

“The sector cannot grow to its full potential unless several interventions are introduced swiftly to improve our competitiveness as a tourism destination, drive demand and contribute significantly in reigniting South Africa’s economy.”

She shares the following five enablers, as highlighted by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), some of which are already defined in the National Department of Tourism’s Recovery Strategy:

1. Improved air access

South Africa desperately needs greater air access. This can be achieved through a national initiative. The Cape Town Air Access (CTAA) has done this locally, and from 2015 – 2019 was able to bring in 10 new airlines, 15 new routes and 20 route expansions. This success was acheived with a relatively small budget.

The Department of Tourism’s Recovery Strategy provides for this, with the commitment to form a national air access unit responsible for countrywide route support and development, and a comprehensive air service development programme.

2. Health and hygiene safety protocols

The TBCSA’s ‘Travel Safe – Eat Safe’ health and hygiene safety protocols, which have been endorsed by the World Travel and Tourism Council, need to be meticulously practiced across the tourism value chain to protect both staff and tourists.

Medical experts agree that if these protocols are followed, the risk of COVID-positive travellers arriving in South Africa, as well as the risks of a tourists catching COVID while travelling here, can be managed. Essentially these infection risks are the same for the tourism sector as for other industries and individuals operating outside of tourism.

The Tourism Recovery Strategy recommends introducing national norms and standards for safe tourism operations, and specifically the use of globally recognised biosecurity protocols. It also acknowledges that the tourism sector has been proactive in establishing biosecurity protocols that reduce transmission risk across all sub-sectors, and can adapt to changing requirements and best practice.

3. Favourable visa dispensation

Temporary visa waivers could help boost tourism, and are currently recommended for South Africa’s key markets. In addition to this, further research into visa waivers is proposed to see how they can stimulate tourism while still supporting national security.

“Frictionless visa and immigration processes and policies will need to form part of an improved destination value proposition post-crisis.”

E-visas are also strongly advocated for, preferably by January 2021 at the latest, to ensure South Africa remains competitive with other destinations.

The National Department of Tourism has highlighted the need to remove travel barriers for tourists; “Frictionless visa and immigration processes and policies will need to form part of an improved destination value proposition post-crisis.”

It also proposes piloting and rolling out an e-visa as a way to acheive this.

4. Improved safety and security

Safety and security remains a concern for international tourists when they consider visiting South Africa. In order to give tourists greater confidence that they will be safe here, significantly more, effective and highly visible policing is needed in all tourist hotspots. This could be delivered through special tourist accredited police (metro or SAPS) and the roll-out of the Tourism Monitors programme, both at scale.

The Department of Tourism’s Recovery Strategy also identified safety and security as one of the biggest barriers to visitor conversion. It recommends intensifying work on tourism safety using its safety monitors programme and partnership with the police and relevant stakeholders.

5. Greater collaboration

South African Tourism and the private sector need to continue working closely together to market South Afirca in a coordinated and effective manner. However, greater synergy is also needed with other sectors of government. The tourism industry is multi-faceted and policies, laws, regulations and actions in most national government departments may, or do, affect tourism. South Africa needs to develop mechanisms to ensure that tourism participates fully in the economic cluster and that its needs are understood in other ministries.

“The tourism sector’s potential far exceeds previous levels and while the crisis has been catastrophic, long-term growth potential is undiminished.”

To quote South African Tourism and the National Department of Tourism’s Recovery Strategy (2020): “South Africa is one of a small group of truly aspirational destinations on earth. To many travel consumers, the country is a dream experience, combining powerful social justice history, breath-taking natural beauty, and warm, welcoming people. South Africa can therefore aspire to a tourism economy that drives growth and fosters development.

“To capture the opportunity requires an urgent response to the current crisis, but also a recognition of the structural factors that have acted as a drag on tourism growth. The tourism sector’s potential far exceeds previous levels and while the crisis has been catastrophic, long-term growth potential is undiminished.”