In her budget vote, the Minister of Tourism, Ms Lindiwe Sisulu, emphasised the value of tourism in the economy, as it contributes 3,7% to South Africa’s gross domestic product, more than agriculture, utilities and construction.

To further illustrate its importance, she pointed out that travel and tourism is an important driver for job creation globally, in that one in 10 jobs, which amounts to 344 million, were created worldwide in the industry in 2019. Ms Sisulu said that the department plans to double South Africa’s share of the global figure in the next five years.

She went on to quantify the impact of Covid-19. In 2020, foreign arrivals decreased by 72.6% in 2020 in comparison to 2019 (2 802 320 compared to 10 288 593 in 2019) with an estimated further decline to 2.3 million in 2021. Contribution to GDP decreased from 3.7% in 2019 to an estimated 1.3% in 2020.

The department has initiated a number of intervention to mitigate this negative impact and to increase resilience. “We have implemented projects to ensure that we protect and rejuvenate the supply and these include the publishing the Norms and Standards for Safe Operation in the Sector, as well as providing training within the sector on these.”

This includes the creation of new tourism attractions, refurbishment of existing tourism precincts, aggressive investor promotion and skills development programmes. This will be complimented by the department’s Global Advocacy Programme to promote South Africa as a tourism destination of choice.

Notwithstanding South Africa’s aggressive global promotion, the department has not ignored its African agenda. “We participated in the Dubai Expo where we hosted Meetings Africa with the theme “Advancing the African Agenda Together. We had 13 countries exhibiting from the African continent and just under 200 buyers, representing 40 countries,” she reported. South African small and medium enterprises exploited this stage to showcase their offerings.

Moving ahead in these trying times, the department has put recovery plans in place. “The Tourism Sector Recovery Plan is a collaborative sector plan worked out jointly by all tourism players and adopted by Cabinet in April 2021 as part of the country’s overall economic recovery from the pandemic and to ensure recovery of the tourism sector including economic growth and job creation.”

Participating in the debate, Mr Manny de Freitas of the Democratic Alliance said the tourism sector has lost an estimated 470 000 jobs due to the government’s illogical job-destroying lockdown period. In his view, the prolonged lock-down disrupted tourism. “The tourism sector supports an extensive value chain, including hotel accommodation, restaurants, tourist destinations, transport, airlines, catering, food and beverage companies, tour guides and registration and support staff. This translates into hundreds of thousands of jobs, in turn supporting millions of people. But government clearly doesn’t care about this.”

In his view, government continues to fail the sector. “Policy uncertainty and contradiction ensured that, for example, one of our largest markets, the United Kingdom, kept us on their red list for 10 months, costing our economy around R7.9 billion in 2021 alone.”

Portfolio Committee on Tourism member representing the African National Congress, Ms Phumeza Mpushe said the devastating effect of Covid-19 on the sector is well-recorded. She thanked the government for lifting the restrictions, thereby allowing the sector to regain lost ground. The recently signed memorandum of understanding between our department and Emirates was a welcome intervention that will boost the sector and connect it to the Emirate’s networks,” she claimed.  

As part of the recovery plan, the Africa Travel Indaba recently held in Durban “has showcased South Africa to the world as a destination that is open for business,” she said. She welcomed the effort to amend the Tourism Bill to incorporate broad-based black economic empowerment as one of its codes, which will support black entrepreneurs to own tourism enterprises. However, she criticised the underdevelopment of villages and townships as viable tourism destinations. “More work needs to be done to promote these sectors as epicentres of this sector.” She urged South Africans: “Let’s grow South Africa together.”

Abel Mputing
20 May 2022