Well, it's that time of year again, when the travel and tourism sector in southern Africa gather at trade shows to sell their products and services to the local and international markets. I refer of course to the World Travel Market Africa (Cape Town) and annual Tourism Indaba (Durban), which both reflect and represent the very best that the region has to offer consumers.
Along with the usual efforts that are made to impress with outlandish and extravagant displays and stands or party the night away in alcohol-infused binges, comes the usual line-up of tried and tested products and service offerings that we have come to expect when travelling the region. And of course, the well-trodden platitudes to responsible business and sustainable business practice!
With the high visibility being given to issues such as water shortages across the region; the cost of electricity and it's impacts, and the undeniable impacts associated with the waste and socio-cultural fabric of communities created by this sector, very little - if anything, is being done to encourage or promote responsible business practice in South Africa in particular. Botswana gives this mega-destination a lesson in humility with a far-more concerted effort at becoming a sustainable destination, while countries to the North continue to take responsible tourism more seriously than most business owners in South Africa consider the e-toll system credible. What should be the basic building-block of South Africa's vision is hardly given a glance by 90% of the tourism products and services on show at Indaba, and while the organisers of WTM-Africa cleverly align themselves with the UK's RT campaign by hosting the 'African Responsible Tourism Awards' each year, no effort is given to ensuring that businesses that are serious about attracting the international traveler are given priority or any form of incentive to do so at these events.
Instead, it's a case of 'business-as-usual' for SA Tourism and the organisers of many other trade and consumer shows across the region. To my mind, being a responsible business - and being seen as such by an independent label, should be the deciding factor when selecting exhibitors to any marketplace representing the country. How else will the long-term objectives of Government be met than by insisting that those wanting to benefit from the potential that the country has on the international tourism stage, meet and practice sound sustainability practice across their business operations? Yes, there may be cancellations and perhaps even a lower take-up on exhibition space by those reluctant to get their house in order, but that is a small price to pay for establishing South Africa as a sustainable and responsible tourist destination!
If you listen carefully you will hear the grumbling and moans from those that believe themselves disadvantaged by the mere thought of a measure of responsible business vetting by organisers and owners of these events. But what the heck! This country - and the region itself, deserves a more responsible and sustainable industry if it ever intends remaining one of the world's most desired destinations. There is no happy ending to the story of this region while product owners and service providers continue to pay lip-service to responsible tourism and while they continue to believe in - and peddle, the untruths and sometimes even downright lies they tell about how they are taking sustainability seriously.
It can't be business as usual under these conditions...!