Anyone involved in tourism in South Africa is acutely aware of the impacts that recent visa regulations have had on tourism arrivals and on the viability of a strong and progressive tourism industry itself. It must therefore come as a great relief to hear that following an inter-departmental task team by Government, changes have been made to the draconian approach to arrivals without necessarily undermining the State's need to protect its borders.
The changes follow a series of high-level talks between government and the private sector, and hopefully it will lead to even more in the coming years. But how-about giving back a little to the Minister who stuck his neck out for the industry and went head-to-head with one of the ''President's Men"? Derek Hannekom has stepped-up to the mark and taken some pretty harsh criticism for the debacle - over which he claims he had no control, but at the same time the industry needs to meet him on other issues related to national tourism development.
I refer of course to the question of responsible tourism. The very same industry leaders that hysterically stamped their collective feet to get this concession through the Department of Tourism, is the same that tends to regard responsible tourism as a nice to have. Its business as usual for the 'big guys’ in industry - or so it seems, and perhaps now is the time for the Minister to draw a 'line in the sand’ when it comes to strategic tourism development issues.
Some-time back we raised the issue of responsible tourism being a cornerstone of the national tourism development strategy, but the lack of political will and industry support for SANS1162 made implementing a national certification programme difficult. Well, now things have changed. If industry want government to come to their salvation, its time they started taking responsible business seriously. No longer can we treat our heritage and natural beauty as uncontrolled resources that the industry can plunder at will, and government needs to make a decision on where they intend tourism to grow in the future.
To the Minister: discussions on responsible tourism and the need for a common national standard have passed. Industry had their say during the development of the Tourism Act of 2004 and the SANS 1162 processes, so implement it now and help make this a sustainable destination worthy of those millions of tourists that will once again be able to travel to our shores with the least amount of red-tape. We owe it to future generations now.