Opinionista Herman Mashaba 8 May 2016

Reimaging Johannesburg as a tourist destination

We can’t compare Table Mountain to Johannesburg’s cityscape, but we can learn from the extraordinary way in which the City of Cape Town has leveraged its assets to become the leading tourist destination in Africa, and one of the most visited cities in the world. Too many visitors have said to me that Johannesburg is a transit city, while Cape Town is a destination; that Johannesburg might be best for a quick business trip, but Cape Town is where you go on holiday. I want to change this perception.

I want Johannesburg to be a tourist destination in its own right. I want to see thousands of jobs created through the endless tourism potential that Johannesburg has, but has yet to realise. This is an opportunity that needs to be unlocked through a dynamic tourism agency, and through active leadership that doesn’t let the vein of gold go unmined.

As the New York Times put it in 2012, “Tourists who bypass Johannesburg and head straight to Cape Town or out on safari are missing one of Africa’s most thrilling metropolises.” 

The city’s own Committee for Economic Development has claimed that employment from tourism could treble, and the economy  grow by between 6% and 7% per annum if all stakeholders in the industry could realise this vision. This is a vision that not only acknowledges our rich natural and cultural heritage, but one that actively promotes it for the good of all who live here.

Any why wouldn’t we promote it? South Africa, and Johannesburg in particular, has everything that both local and foreign tourists desire: jaw-dropping landscapes, the Big 5, rich urban heritage, the best shopping in Africa, a dynamic cultural scene, brilliant food culture, and a history that is reflected in every part of the city. This has positive spin-offs for tourists who can enjoy a smörgåsbord of choices. SMEs and big entrepreneurs can carve out niche opportunities, and hoteliers benefit from longer stays when a destination has much to offer.

Yet we must decisively nudge South Africa up from its 48th ranking in the WEF Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2015. It’s not bad, but objectively we have more to offer than, say, Singapore at 11th place and the UAE (mainly Dubai) at 24th place. In fact, I think the latter in particular holds clues for how Johannesburg can leapfrog other city destinations. And if we can float Johannesburg’s tourism, we can float South Africa’s.

The DA views tourism as a crucial tool of economic development, and wherever we govern we seek to create an enabling environment to achieve this goal. Arising from this, our priority must be to provide opportunities for poor residents. We would ensure that our tourism strategy primarily generates benefits for local people, and stimulates the regional economy. This requires structuring a tourism economy to ensure that the suppliers, the different economic sectors, and the tourist spend are all filtered into a product where the tourist revenue flows back to the poor, and empowers small businesses.

Yes, I realise that many residents are unlikely to be able to participate in the major sectors such as air travel and hotel accommodation. However, they can participate in supplementary services. This includes opening their homes and informal businesses to tourists, making and selling local artisan and food products, handicraft experts, and working as indigenous fauna and flora guides. Local knowledge is the key to experience-based tourism, which has become the major motivator for tourists in the 21st century.

If elected as Mayor on August 3, I will model our tourism strategy on what City of Cape Town has done to propel Cape Town to Best City status from Britain’s Daily Telegraph to the Lonely Planet. The Tourism Department drives the City of Cape Town’s local tourism mandate and supports the City’s strategic sector strategy, with outsourcing to a private company set up under Section 67 of the Municipal Management Finance Act. The entity, Cape Town Tourism, is thus able to leverage funding from the private sector for joint strategy work promoting the Mother City.

The Tourism Department in-house has two branches: Local Area Tourism Development and Destination Development responsible for facilitating the development of tourism in the metropolitan area. Cape Town Tourism deals with day-to-day tourism information. They also market Cape Town locally and internationally.

This in turn is supported by other city departments, who ensure that the infrastructure and services are provided that enable the tourist sector to thrive. Tourists are able to access a wide variety of experiences in a modern and secure environment.

In contrast, under the ANC, Johannesburg does not actively court tourists, and the lack of infrastructure and services for the tourist sector only serve to detour development. To change this, Johannesburg must offer a vibrant tourism model that visitors won’t want to bypass, a city they feel safe in, and a city where they’ll have unforgettable experiences whatever their interests and budgets.

With this in mind, I believe that we need to reimagine Johannesburg as the Dubai of Africa. Currently, we’re a transit city with most international passengers taking transit flights. With precision marketing, Visit Dubai has managed to market the once unremarkable port city as a sophisticated stop-over or end-point destination for Emirates airline passengers. In the same way, Johannesburg’s location must be leveraged as both a stop-over and end-destination hub of a giant wheel with multiple spokes into Africa – and direct flights of less than 10 hours to India, the Middle East, Brazil, and Australia. Very few cities rival that level of international connectivity.

The key is to play up to Johannesburg’s strengths not only as an African city, but as a global city. From the Cradle of Humankind to the Iron Age settlements on the Melville Koppies and the Klipriviersberg, our history stretches back to the very beginning of humanity. Our modern history is reflected from the Art Deco masterpieces of the inner city to the history of the struggle against apartheid in Vilakazi Street. The Apartheid Museum and the Constitutional Court Hill complex bear testament to the endurance of the human spirit. Newtown and Maboneng both represent the richness of our contemporary cultural scene, and our ability to re-imagine our urban spaces.

Yet two of the city’s own museums – the Johannesburg Art Gallery and the MuseuMAfricA – are a disappointment to most visitors. They are severely under-funded and do not provide the international levels of curation that their incredible collections demand. We cannot ignore our rich visual culture that the rest of the world would love to share with us.

In one of our city parks, there is a bench that say, “Nothing is impossible.” And that is exactly how I feel.

Can we make Johannesburg the hub of local and African theatre, dance and music? While Cape Town hosts the international jazz festival, Johannesburg focuses only on the local. Let us become the new hub for jazz in Africa. Our rich history of jazz in Sophiatown and Soweto should be an inspiration to the current generation of artists who just need the platform to perform.

Do we capitalise on the fact that Johannesburg is one of the world’s greenest metropolises with an estimated 6- to 10-million trees in the city and over 2,000 parks? Why is the city’s greenery not as well-known as Vienna’s, where it is possible to reach a green zone from any point of the city within a three-minute walk?

I have already spelt out in Daily Maverick how I will use the Internet of Everything to improve service delivery. Technology can also be harnessed to make Johannesburg more accessible to visitors. In 2011, Forum Virium Helsinki initiated the Walk and Feel Helsinki project to help tourists explore the city. Imagine tourists in Jozi using their smartphones to scan barcodes attached to signposts – or on public transport routes – to access information about nearby places of interest. If elected, I will award a bursary to study tourism to a student who develops the best Jozi Tourism dedicated app.

We also have an altruistic as well as a commercial interest in developing a joined-up approach to African tourism with initiatives like twin-centre holiday packages. For example, a weekend in Maputo, closer to Johannesburg than Durban, offers visitors dhows gliding across the horizon, Caminhos de Ferro de Moçambique (the railway station designed by Gustav Eiffel), tiger prawns and delicious espressos and Portuguese pastries. This and much more exists in one tiny corner of our great continent. What other magical experiences do we overlook when developing our tourism strategies?

Second, I will use big events to attract tourists to Johannesburg with conferences and major sporting events as drawcards. Again, I will leverage private funding for the most part, with the aim of “exiting” the stage when sustainability is reached. As stewards of public money, we will work on a cost recovery basis when we play a large role. As much as possible, I would like the private sector to take on both the risks and benefits of hosting large-scale events because, simply, small and large businesses are more competent than government at this kind of work. Thousands of new jobs can be created.

In Cape Town the International Convention Centre (CTICC) is going through a massive expansion to keep up with the demand. The districts around the CTICC have experienced rapid development to keep up with the demand for accommodation, and once derelict buildings and blocks are being transformed in a constant wave of urban regeneration. This in turn has had tremendous knock-on effects and benefits for local businesses. Even Cape Town’s MyCiTi BRT system has ensured that it was planned around tourist nodes, so that the city and its many attractions remain highly accessible to visitors. We need the same joined-up thinking and integrated transport planning in Johannesburg.

Simply put, Johannesburg needs a DA Mayor and government to unleash the tourist potential of this remarkable and global city. DM

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