Tourist traps

Pay­ing R7 for a Coke is day­light rob­bery

Finweek English Edition - - Creating wealth - BY ADRI­AAN KRUGER adri­

THE LADY BE­HIND THE COUNTER was quite up­set when Ge­orge said he didn’t want the tin of Coke any­more. “I wouldn’t pay R7 for a tin of cool drink even if I had a bil­lion rand in the bank.”

We’re not talk­ing about be­ing served by a young wait­ress in a fancy restau­rant, get­ting a tall glass with ice while sit­ting on a Wetherly’s chair here. No, this R7 Coke comes with a plas­tic straw from a lit­tle shop at Knysna’s har­bour.

Ar­gu­ments that most of the cus­tomers are tourists and will­ing to pay high prices don’t hold wa­ter. In in­ter­na­tional terms, that tin of cool drink costs nearly US$1 – dou­ble the price at any small shop in the United States.

Ge­orge won­ders if this is the right recipe to grow tourism in SA? Let ev­ery­body sit in an aero­plane for 14 hours and charge them crim­i­nal prices for ba­sic stuff like a tin of cool drink.

Vis­i­tors are even eas­ier tar­gets in restau­rants. Af­ter a free bread roll they’re morally obliged to or­der a meal and pay the price. In ex­cep­tional cases there are even two prices: one for vis­i­tors and an­other for South Africans (re­mem­ber to talk Souf Afrikên English and park in the space re­served for the dis­abled).

If we stop over­charg­ing we might at­tract more in­ter­na­tional tourists. The En­vi­ron­ment & Tourism Min­istry wants us to be­lieve that SA re­ceived nearly 4,6m in­ter­na­tional tourists in first-half 2006 – 15% more than in the pre­vi­ous year.

But most of those aren’t rich Euro­peans or Amer­i­cans who fly here in new Air­bus jets with a wal­let stacked with credit cards. Sta­tis­tics SA’s de­tailed sur­vey shows that more than 75% of those “hol­i­day mak­ers” are trav­el­ling by car or bus to SA from African coun­tries to the north of us.

The real fig­ure for tourists ar­riv­ing by air was a much lower 1,495m dur­ing the nine months to end-Septem­ber last year.

Most of those – 341 400 – came from Bri­tain, which sug­gests that many of them might be emi­grants com­ing to visit fam­ily rather than tourists with pock­ets full of money. Over the same nine months, 196 533 Amer­i­cans and 172 264 Ger­mans vis­ited SA.

Most of the other “tourists” from the rest of Africa look like im­mi­grants com­ing to SA to look for work rather than to shop for cu­rios in one of our na­tional parks or to splash about in Sun City’s ar­ti­fi­cial waves.

Which­ever way the fig­ures are looked at, ev­ery­one agrees that there are growth op­por­tu­ni­ties. If nearly 1,5m real tourists vis­ited SA over a pe­riod of nine months, we’re look­ing at an av­er­age of (only) 5 461 in­ter­na­tional tourists/day in SA. We have ho­tels, tourist re­sorts, na­ture re­serves, guest­houses and lux­u­ri­ous tented camps to ac­com­mo­date a lot more.

If ev­ery tourist stays only 10 days in SA, we need around 55 000 beds in ho­tel rooms and other places ev­ery year. At the cheaper rates of guest houses at R300/night – not our five-star ho­tels at R2 000 – those tourists spend about R16,5m while sleep­ing.

Ge­orge reck­ons that if ev­ery Bri­tish tourist brings only £500 for eat­ing, drink­ing, sleep­ing and en­ter­tain­ment, SA re­ceives tourist in­come of R10,6bn/year. Hope­fully, they en­joy them­selves enough to phone home and or­gan­ise an­other £500 on the credit card so as to stay a lit­tle longer. Or US$2 000 or 1 500 euro – we’re will­ing to ac­cept any cur­rency. The in­dus­try can grow a lot, and has to grow to cre­ate em­ploy­ment.

The price of a tin of Coke – and a plate of seafood, a ho­tel room and a rental car – is im­por­tant if you look at the ex­pec­ta­tions with re­gards to the tourism in­dus­try, which has been iden­ti­fied as one of the two most im­por­tant sec­tors in SA to stim­u­late eco­nomic growth.

To­gether with com­pet­i­tive pric­ing goes good ser­vice and, es­pe­cially in SA, the safety of our guests. It’s stupid to say that tourists shouldn’t go for a ro­man­tic stroll on the beach. It’s part of the hol­i­day ex­pe­ri­ence to sit on a bench and lis­ten to the waves.

And to say that crime is no worse here than any­where else – and that it’s the m e d i a ’s fault for cre­at­ing the im­pres­sion that it is – is even big­ger non­sense.

In June last year, the Bri­tish in­sur­ance com­pany Nor­wich Union found in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of its travel in­sur­ance claims that SA is the world’s most dan­ger­ous hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion. The data com­prised real claims by vic­tims of crime while trav­el­ling. Yes, those Brits – our big­gest tourism cus­tomers. Some 60 000 in­sur­ance claims were an­a­lysed in the study.

SA has the du­bi­ous hon­our of be­ing the world’s hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion where the Brits are most likely to be at­tacked with weapons or as­saulted. The risk of be­ing in­volved in a mo­tor ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dent is nearly as high. Only in Thai­land are Bri­tish tourists more likely to ex­pe­ri­ence ac­ci­dents.

Ge­orge thinks it must be es­pe­cially trau­matic for a vis­i­tor to SA to be in­volved in a car ac­ci­dent. We al­ready ac­cept that more than 1 000 peo­ple will die in ac­ci­dents ev­ery hol­i­day and that thou­sands more will be hurt.

We don’t raise an eye­brow to the fact that 13 000 peo­ple die on our roads ev­ery year. It equals three road deaths ev­ery two hours. We also ac­cept the short­age of am­bu­lances, trained emer­gency work­ers and even blood plasma.

The vis­i­tors who sur­vive our roads have a good chance of be­ing robbed or hav­ing their lug­gage stolen. SA is first on the list of hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions where tourists’ lug­gage dis­ap­pears, and holds sec­ond place where things are most likely to be stolen.

And that doesn’t in­clude the day­light rob­bery when pay­ing for an over­priced cool drink.

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