Maverick Citizen


Tourism is South Africa’s economic jewel, so let’s work together to harness its potential

Tourism is South Africa’s economic jewel, so let’s work together to harness its potential
The Africa Travel Indaba at Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre on 10 May 2023 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Tourism has the potential to push our nation to higher levels of prosperity, but it requires the private and public sectors to work together.

Recently President Cyril Ramaphosa hailed the statistics which show the country’s tourism sector has made a significant recovery since the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. In his weekly letter, the President further stated that “the figures should strengthen our resolve to ensure that tourism becomes one of the biggest drivers of our economic recovery”. 

I personally welcome this message from the President, which shone a light on the work of our industry. Often the tourism sector receives little recognition in the public discourse.

We in the tourism value chain have labelled our sector as the engine of growth because we see first-hand the impact that the industry has on livelihoods. It has the potential to boost inclusive economic growth and job creation. We consider our sector to be among the largest in the world. This belief is bolstered by data from the World Travel and Tourism Council which shows that in the next decade our industry will significantly outstrip the growth rate of the country’s overall economy. The World Bank also shows that tourism has the potential to push several developing nations to higher levels of prosperity.

Our country needs that prosperity, as we have seen with our recent job stats. Youth unemployment remains particularly high. Tourism can help create those jobs. 

For example, data from 2019 shows that tourism accounted for about 773,533 direct jobs in the formal sector, this translates to one out of every 21 employed people in our country. Now imagine if we didn’t have factors such as load shedding which has eaten into the profits of many businesses, delaying the rate at which we could be employing more people.

The growth of the tourism industry does not happen in isolation, we are aware that the pockets of many consumers are constrained because of rising inflation and constant interest rate hikes. Economic events such as these often mean travel is the last thing on people’s minds. However, here at home we witnessed how South Africans faced the challenge head-on and supported their own tourism industry. The domestic travel industry was kept alive by many South Africans who chose to explore their own country when overseas travel was restricted.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Recovering tourism from the economic storms of the past two years demands careful planning

So much so that at the recent Africa’s Travel Indaba, which I attended, many of the businesses tailor-made some of their specials to accommodate local travellers. The indaba left me feeling like we are all united in the work we need to do to achieve our collective tourism goals. The gathering was a success and gave us hope that we are well on target to reach 21 million visitors to the country by 2030. 

Still work to be done

Of course, these targets won’t be achieved by holding events alone. I am alive to the reality that a lot of work still needs to be done. One thing I know very well is that when the private and public sectors work together, great things happen.

The public sector, whose efforts are led by the Department of Tourism under the stewardship of Minister Patricia de Lille and the marketing arm, South African Tourism, has just as difficult a role in making sure that the travel and tourism industry’s contribution to the South African economy is known by all South Africans. The role of the minister and her team is to create an enabling environment for us to trade in, an efficient e-visa system, a reduction in the backlog for operator licences, and to work with us to market the country to various source markets. We have made our inputs known to the minister through our recovery plan and many other industry-enhancing proposals.

A new interim board, which we as the private sector support, has begun the work to bring much-needed stability to South African Tourism. The country is also looking to appoint a new board and a new CEO to help market South Africa as a top destination to various source markets. It is our sincere hope that skilled South Africans will not be deterred by the noise that often surrounds the appointment to these high-profile positions, and make themselves available to serve their country.  

Tourism matters. It needs all of us to work together to harness its great potential. DM

Blacky Komani is chairperson of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa.


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