Tourism: Lessons for Government

Science isn’t cast in stone

The last lecture of my Bachelor of Science course at university was presented by our professor.  As Prof Engelbrecht finished, he looked at us all for a long time, and then said that this was the end of this stage of our studies.  “The most important advice I can give you now,” he continued, “is that 50% of what I’ve taught you is correct, and 50% is incorrect.  And that it’s up to you to discover which is which.”

Science is not infallible, nor is it all factual.  It’s how you interpret it and what you do with it that counts.  Being led by science can be a recipe for disaster.  Remember that next time someone from government uses science to justify their actions.

The tourism industry is a perishable industry

It was the late Don Titmas, when he opened the first fine dining restaurant at the Waterfront, who told me: “Tourism and hospitality are perishable industries.  You can never sell bodies into beds, bottoms onto restaurant or bus or plane seats after their sell by date.  If they are not sold for today, they are lost forever.”

And if you lose enough days, you lose your industry.

Thinking that it can be radically transformed after Covid-19 is naive and demonstrates a complete fantasy.  Tourism and hospitality are, in most cases, capital-intensive businesses to start.  And SA is now a poor country.  Tourism and hospitality require professionalism, passion and years of very hard work.

Tourism & Hospitality is the biggest & most competitive industry in the world

It’s also the biggest industry in the world, employing more people than anything else. It pays the salaries of shopkeepers and sales assistant in almost every kind of retail store, and every activity that supplies those stores.  Hospitality is found at the tens of thousands of shebeens, coffee shops, pubs and restaurants around the country, providing employment for hundreds of thousands of people.  People don’t travel to sleep in a strange bed, they travel for the experiences they can enjoy.

Oh yes, and of course there are the hotels, lodges, guest houses and B&Bs, the villas and cottages, the tour guides, car rental agencies, airports and airlines and all the companies that service and support them.

Tourism & hospitality provides local citizens with environments and services they would never otherwise have,  And tourism areas usually provide safer environments because, without that, there will be no tourism.

It requires world-beating professionalism, business acumen, vision, knowledge, competence and a passion for people.  There is no place for entitlement.  And it needs people in government who understand and can support this.

I was invited to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport in the late 1990s.  Someone who really impressed me was Mafika Mkwanazi, who went on to become chairman of Transnet in 2010.  At the time he was project manager for the refurbishment of the luxury Blue Trains.  He spoke about the problem of trains being stoned as they passed through railway stations, because they are a symbol of elitism.  One of the ANC committee members made the serious suggestion that if all South Africans were allowed to ride on the trains, the problem would be resolved…

In Buffalo City a few years back, I met with the head of tourism for the city to discover the city’s plans for tourism.  She was immediately on the defensive and said Buffalo City would be as popular as Cape Town if SA Tourism promoted them as much as Cape Town is promoted.  So I asked about their major events which drew visitors internationally.  “We are going to organise them,” was her reply.

“And your brand?” I asked, “No-one knows where Buffalo City is.  It doesn’t exist on any map,  There isn’t a Buffalo City post office or airport.”  Her reply? “We’re still going to change that.”  Buffalo City is still known as East London, except by politicians and bureaucrats…

So one shouldn’t be surprised  when Supra Mahumapelo, chair of Parliament’s Tourism Portfolio Committee, responded to the TBCSA’s presentation last week:  “It will not be business as usual in the tourism sector in the post-COVID-19 era,” he said, appealing to the TBCSA to tailor-make tour packages for SADC, Africa, and Brics countries.  “This will be one of the strategies boosting regional tourism and supporting the recovery and sustainability of the tourism sector in the foreseeable future,” said Mahumapelo.

He obviously doesn’t understand the finer details of source markets.  David Maynier, Western Cape provincial minister of tourism responded: “The portfolio committee does not have a mandate to determine what source markets the provincial government can or should target for international tourism. We are working hard to open the tourism sector safely, and will continue to target existing markets, and explore new markets.”

If SA had a competent national tourism minister and department of tourism, they would be educating their cadres, or at least ensure that professionals are appointed to tourism jobs.

In Business Day recently, Tamra Veley, MD of public affairs consultancy Corporate Image, made the call that a Resilient post-pandemic economy requires bolder business engagement.  It needs to be much, much bolder… and President Ramaphosa needs to up the competence on his cabinet.  Most people in government don’t know how bad they actually are.  Tourism is too important for ideological cadres.  Tourism needs the brightest and  the best.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *