September has been designated Tourism Month in a number of countries around the world, and here at home in South Africa, it should be attracting a lot more attention than it does, but for a number of reasons, we lose traction in this global showcase of tourism.
The month kicked-off with our Minister being relegated to presenting talks in some of the far-flung universities of this land, to students that wouldn't have a clue about the subject and at a time when our industry is under threat. Rather than grandstand at events clearly designed to provide this man with visibility, our Department of Tourism should be focussed on three main challenges.
Firstly, the issue of visa's and travel restrictions continues to cause problems in our world - obviously not in the world of officials, and other than for weak excuses and some vague promise of a 'Cabinet Portfolio Committee' to look into the matter, we are no closer to solving the problem that has been created by the new visa regime announced by Home Affairs this year. Studies conducted by a leading consultancy have shown a direct relationship between declining arrivals and job losses as a result of the changes, so let's stop talking about this and do something before it is too late.
The second challenge is that of our dysfunctional tourism authority - SA Tourism. Yet another study has been undertaken of this bloated and rather sad entity and as was predicted by observers, the outcome of the review was much the same as that undertaken in 1996 - probably because the same, tired and opinionated individuals did both studies. We need new blood in the organisation - new insight and appreciation of the fact that we are no longer that 'must see' destination and an understanding of how we can capitalise on the essence that makes us South Africa. Madiba has gone - and so too has his vision of a Rainbow Nation, so the time has come to unpack a new vision and strategy to ensure that we remain one of the top destinations on the continent - and the World.
And finally. The time has passed for 'business as usual' in Africa and more emphasis must be placed on ensuring a sustainable legacy for future generations. The fact that the Department has had a world-class Responsible Tourism Standard for the past three years - and has still not launched it, speaks volumes about the calibre of people that lead this industry. Responsible tourism is no longer a 'nice to have' - particularly when we look at the injustices of the past and the continued marginalisation of communities and individuals in tourism. Ask yourself why none of the large hotel groups have any of their properties certified to the national standard - and why they continue to pretend that business can go on without change at the most important level - sustainability?
Tourism Month is an opportunity to focus the energy of this nation on the most important job-creating sector in our country. This is the time for the Minister to make bold and decisive announcements of change - not simply for the sake of doing so, but for the future of the industry and our country at large. And this is the time when every player in this industry needs to take ownership of his or her business's impacts and change them for the better. Tourism Month should be the opportunity for each tourism product owner or service provider to commit to the ideals of a more responsible industry - not only verbally, but also with real change.
On the other hand - and based on our historical performance, September will glide by and we will soon forget the opportunities that went with it. And in a year, the Minister will be trotted-out once again to make some pointless presentation to people that really don't care! Quite sad really!