Not many businesses in the tourism sector in South Africa are aware of the fact that responsible tourism is a strategic pillar of tourism development of government. Less are even aware of what that means to the future of tourism development in the country, and that fault lies directly at the feet of the National Department of Tourism (NDT).
The Tourism Act of 2012 for the first time placed responsible tourism on the statutes, but through a series of bungles, foot-dragging and indifference by the officials guiding tourism development in this country, South Africa has still to make any headway in creating the enabling environment for responsible tourism development. In fact, the NDT has been so bad at getting the message out to its various arms and structures, that a recent internal survey reflected a miserable 22% understanding of responsible tourism by regional, provincial and local tourism authorities across the country!
Grading - the process of quality assuring accommodation products, is a well-entrenched system in the country, having evolved from a compulsory system in 1965 to what is today a faltering voluntary system of 13 000 graded establishments across the country. But what the NDT fails to explain - or even comprehend, is the total lack of logic when it comes to grading tourism businesses that don't even meet a minimal responsible business standard. Less than 100 graded properties across the country meet the national RT standard through one of three local certification schemes - a shocking lack of support or commitment by any measure. Whereas responsible tourism is regarded as a cornerstone of tourism strategy, grading is not, yet the focus remains on turning-out as many five-Star properties as possible with scant regard to how they impact local communities, the social fabric of society or the environment at all.
What makes this worse is the role that the NDT-funded SA Tourism plays in the overall strategy. Nothing at all..! No effort has been made by SA Tourism - the national tourism promotion arm of government, to recognise, encourage or reward responsible tourism practice, yet they continue to gather hundreds of millions in public funds for their operational activities. How can the marketing activities of the government not support the strategic objectives they have set for themselves? This extends to every financial incentive offered by the NDT, IDC, TEPP and other publicly-funded lending and development agencies which currently have no gatekeeper system to ensure that funds are being used for the development of responsible tourism products. Don't even start considering the amount of money that is being spent by government organisations, departments and institutions on businesses that don't meet the minimum responsible tourism standard.
For the past three years, the NDT has bragged about having only the second national responsible tourism standard in the world, but it has failed miserably to either incentivise participation (as if this was needed in terms of theAct) nor to get the standard implemented in any way. Half-hearted attempts to get the process moving have been made but there is clearly a lack of political and organisational will to actually make a difference. Workshop after workshop is called to debate the standard, each time failing to address the real cause of the problem - the inability and a lack of foresight by the NDT. As Al Gore so correctly quoted, 'its dificult to get a man to understand something if his job depends on him not understanding it..".
What is called for is more concrete commitment by the NDT, the Minister and every government department to driving and developing responsible tourism in South Africa. RT speaks to the National Development Plan; the Millennium Goals and a host of international, national and local strategies and objectives, yet unless they are supported and given effect by government, they are simply another example of wasted opportunity.