Whose head is in the tourism sand?

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya

If you visit top tourism web­sites such as Trav­el­guru and U City Guides, you will find news that will warm your heart as a South African.

U City Guides rates South Africa among the top 10 most beau­ti­ful coun­tries in the world, slot­ting us in at a nice num­ber nine. In rav­ing about our “epic di­ver­sity of land­scapes, from the Blyde River Canyon to the Drak­ens­berg Moun­tains”, the web­site talks about Cape Town be­ing “one of the world’s most beau­ti­ful cities” and the Kruger Na­tional Park as “one of the most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences on the planet”.

But it is Trav­el­guru – which puts us in the num­ber one spot of the world’s 20 most beau­ti­ful coun­tries – that makes a prospec­tive trav­eller sali­vate. It refers to the coun­try’s sweep of in­ter­na­tional travel prizes and hav­ing “the high­est re­peat tourism of any long-haul des­ti­na­tion in the world”.

“Not only does the coun­try have stu­pen­dous nat­u­ral beauty, but it’s ur­ban-amaz­ing too,” Trav­el­guru gushes. Here are some of its raves:

Three of the world’s 10 most beau­ti­ful coastal drives and a coast­line hailed as the most beau­ti­ful on earth; An as­ton­ish­ing va­ri­ety of marine life; and Un­sur­passed wildlife and moun­tains, whales and wa­ter­falls, ar­chi­tec­ture and an­tiq­uity.

All these things, says Trav­el­guru, makes South Africa a “must-see trav­eller’s dream”.

If you are not singing Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika at the top of your voice right now, it means you are a bad citizen and this lowly news­pa­per­man will be send­ing you a read­ing list of Mathole Mot­shekga’s writ­ings as cruel pun­ish­ment.

Aware of these at­tributes and ac­co­lades, it only made sense for South Africa to pri­ori­tise the tourism sec­tor as a driver of eco­nomic growth.

In nu­mer­ous gov­ern­ment and pri­vate sec­tor strate­gies, tourism is iden­ti­fied as the lowhang­ing fruit in terms of cre­at­ing eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties and driv­ing growth. In an en­vi­ron­ment in which man­u­fac­tur­ing and min­ing sec­tors are de­clin­ing, tourism has been one of the few show­ing pos­i­tive job cre­ation and af­fect­ing lives be­yond the ur­ban ar­eas. Be­cause of the rand’s rel­a­tive weak­ness com­pared with other ma­jor cur­ren­cies, the sec­tor has been cush­ioned from the worst ef­fects of the slug­gish­ness in the world econ­omy.

Then along came Malusi Gi­gaba, rid­ing his high horse at break­neck speed. Af­ter a luke­warm per­for­mance at public en­ter­prises, where he was bul­lied by SAA’s Marie An­toinette, he needed a legacy pro­ject. That legacy would be the tight­en­ing of South Africa’s immigration regime, os­ten­si­bly to pro­tect the coun­try from bad el­e­ments and shield kids from traf­fick­ers.

The in­ten­tions were noble. Ev­ery­body wants a safe coun­try and ev­ery­body wants chil­dren to be safe from creeps. It was when that dreaded phrase “un­in­tended con­se­quences” crept into the pic­ture that Gi­gaba’s stub­born­ness was ex­posed.

Through­out the pas­sage of the reg­u­la­tions, he has been un­will­ing to lis­ten to voices that warned about the dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences of his pro­pos­als on tourism. He shut his ears as travel com­pa­nies, hos­pi­tal­ity bod­ies, air­lines, ex­perts and even mem­bers of his own party sounded the alarm bells. He was like Napoleon lead­ing his troops into the Rus­sian win­ter.

He re­fused to lis­ten to sta­tis­ti­cal ev­i­dence that even though child traf­fick­ing was a prob­lem that needed to be con­fronted, it was not at cri­sis lev­els. In fact, there had been just more than 20 cases in the past three years. He would not lis­ten to those who said that this was not some­thing for home af­fairs, and that the depart­ment should rather sup­port the po­lice and other law en­force­ment agen­cies in this re­gard.

And when con­crete ev­i­dence came through that for­ward book­ings were be­ing can­celled and en­quires were de­clin­ing due to for­eign­ers not be­ing will­ing to sub­ject them­selves to oner­ous visa con­di­tions, he went into de­nial. He blamed the sit­u­a­tion on ev­ery­thing else – from the global slow­down, to mis­con­cep­tions about Ebola, to Man­doza’s re­fusal to re­tire from the mu­sic in­dus­try. Ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one but him­self.

This week he took it a step fur­ther. He re­sponded to com­ments by Tourism Min­is­ter Derek Hanekom with the lu­di­crous as­ser­tion that those who were wor­ried about tourism num­bers didn’t care about the plight of chil­dren.

What Gi­gaba has now done is to paint him­self into a cor­ner. He be­lieves that if he backs down from his flag­ship pro­ject, he will have been de­feated. Weak­ness is not a trait that am­bi­tious types like to be as­so­ci­ated with.

But lead­er­ship is also about press­ing the brake and con­sid­er­ing al­ter­na­tive routes be­fore you com­mit to speed down the heav­ily pot­holed road. Pig-head­ed­ness, on the other hand, is plough­ing down that road for fear of be­ing laughed at for not hav­ing lis­tened to the alarm bells ear­lier.

What will Gi­gaba choose: lead­er­ship or pig-head­ed­ness? You may be alarmed.

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