Conversations with leaders
With September being Tourism Month, Minister of Tourism Tokozile Xasa discusses tourism as a contributor to economic growth and the department's efforts to grow the number of local and international tourists.
Tourism Minister Tokozile Xasa on how tourism can help grow the economy
The tourism sector has grown into one of the country's most robust and thriving economic sectors, as seen by the more than 10 million international visitors to South Africa in 2016.
Tourism has recorded its seventh year of sustainable growth, despite the economic slowdown, and over the past year the country experienced 13 percent growth in international tourist arrivals.
“South Africa is a welcoming and value-for-money destination and this is essential for tourism growth,” Minister of Tourism Tokozile Xasa told PSM recently.
It is a sector that has the potential to contribute to economic growth. “Tourism now supports over 1.5 million jobs in total and we want to support over 2.2 million jobs by 2026,” says the Minister.
An important development in tourism is that of sustainable tourism, so much so that the United Nations declared 2017 as the year of Sustainable Tourism Development.
Minister Xasa explains that sustainable tourism is an industry commitment to making a low impact on the environment and local culture, while helping to generate future employment for local people .“Sustainable tourism is not just about ‘green tourism'. It means the tourism industry must embrace practices that are environmentally, economically and socially responsible − that develop, empower and uplift communities. It is about business and government committing to the triple bottom line of people, plant and profits.
“The impact of sustainable tourism is to ensure that development is a positive experience for local people, tourism companies and tourists. Sustainable tourism is therefore essential to the growth of the tourism sector and the equitable spread of its benefits. This includes giving small businesses and previously disadvantaged tourism players the opportunity to enter the industry, access the market and add to the diversity of our country's tourism offering,” explains Minister Xasa.
Nevertheless, the country firmly supports sustainable, eco-friendly and ‘green' tourism, says the Minister.The Department of Tourism has invested in “what we call the Green Tourism Transformation Fund for Small and Medium Enterprises, which aims to identify more efficient and renewable energy solutions that would not only reduce cost but also support cleaner energy options and alleviate pressure on the national grid.”
Initiatives in pursuit of sustainable tourism include community-based tourism projects, universal accessibility, and tourism resource efficiency.
With community-based tourism, community members are trained and supported to become part of the tourism value chain. Universal access is about making tourist destinations accessible to people held back by a lack of finances, age or disability, for example.The country's national parks, says the Minister, have made headway in this regard with various natural heritage engagements aimed at the disabled.
“Initiatives include ramps and wheelchair-access pathways in various parks as well as statues and wildlife sculptures that blind people can use to learn more about the animals,” says Minister Xasa.
Inclusive growth and radical transformation
In keeping with promoting sustainability, the department's Tourism and Resource Efficiency programme is aimed at supporting tourism businesses to conserve and manage water, energy and waste.
“Tourism's labour absorption capacity remains a great weapon with which we can solve the jobs crisis. Radical economic transformation can only be achieved by creating a fertile environment in which tourism can take root and flourish. This includes giving small businesses and previously disadvantaged players the opportunity to enter the industry, access the market and add to the diversity of our country's tourism offering further making us a more attractive destination,” the Minister says.
“Most informal enterprises are blackowned and generate much-needed income for their owners and their families, create jobs and contribute to the tax base. They are, in short, vitally important.”
Such initiatives tie in with the National Development Plan, which has identified tourism as a key driver of inclusive economic growth aimed at reducing poverty and inequality and creating new jobs. Tourism, says Minister Xasa, has the potential to boost the economy, generate inclusive growth, create jobs and contribute to transformation .“Tourism supports some 700000 jobs in South Africa and contributes three percent to the Gross Domestic Product. When you factor in all the related industries that feed into the tourism ecosystem, the figures are much higher.The aim is to leverage tourism's
“It is when we work together, pool our resources, partner and share our best knowledge that we can achieve so much more.”
immense potential to create an extra 225 000 jobs in tourism by 2020.”
Because tourism activities extend to every corner of South Africa, into cities and rural areas, townships, our mountains, our forests and coastline,“our tourism strategies are continuously being geared towards alleviating poverty among the rural poor where we undertake projects that also benefit local communities,” says the Minister.“This includes supporting community-led tourism enterprises.”
Women working in tourism
Most of those working in the tourism industry are women, but they are mainly in lower and entry level positions, says the Minister.
Enabling, uplifting and empowering women means creating an environment that eases access and inclusivity. To contribute to achieving this, the Department of Tourism runs its Women in Tourism 30-in-5 campaign. It is a publicprivate partnership aimed at increasing the number of women in executive management and directorship positions in the sector.
“Another project we are extremely proud of is the SMME Market Access programme, informally known as ‘Hidden Gems', which has introduced dozens of new players to the market. In collaboration with the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association and South African Tourism, this pioneering project sees small tourism businesses in each province receiving training and mentorship by industry professionals and being given access to travel buyers and other key industry stakeholders,” says the Minister.
The Department of Tourism has also established the Executive Development Programme for Women with the University of South Africa Graduate School of Business Leadership. According to the Minister, about 20 black women have been trained and recently graduated.Three have already been promoted to managerial positions.
Including the youth
To survive and thrive, the tourism sector also has to attract young people.The annual National Tourism Careers Expo attracts over 10 000 learners, tourism students, graduates and educators over three days.The interactive exhibition showcases the available career opportunities in tourism and hospitality. Empowering students by helping them to find a positive career path can help them feel less despondent and embrace the prospect of an exciting future, says the Minister.“Some of the successes of the Expo include students using the experienced gained during the event to set up their own businesses or continue working in the establishments that hosted them during the programme.”
The department also runs the National Young Chefs Training Programme, a unique partnership between the Department of Tourism and South African Chefs' Association (Saca) to address the urgent need for skilled cooks and chefs in the country's growing hospitality industry.
The programme emphasises training in outlying areas, with 25 Saca-accredited culinary schools participating in the creation and success of the programme.
The pilot project, which began in April 2011, was designed to provide both theoretical and practical training. Of the 800 students who signed up for the first course,
717 completed the certificate course.The course boasted a 75 percent pass rate, with 35 percent of those earning a distinction or a merit.The success of the programme prompted the department to invest a further R40 million
in the second year of the programme, the Minister adds.
Government and private sector efforts aside, the most important ambassadors of tourism are South Africans, says Minister Xasa.
The 'We Do Tourism' movement encourages all those who live in South Africa to be ambassadors in their own country.“It aims to show that we are all part of the tourism value chain in some way, directly or indirectly, and that we can all contribute to the sector's prosperity.”
And with South Africa as part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), we have a contribution to make to sustaining and growing tourism not just in South Africa but also our region.
South Africa works with its sister countries to make Africa a destination of choice, says Minister Xasa. “As the southern African region, we need to do more to foster intra-regional tourism to everyone's mutual benefit. It is when we work together, pool our resources, partner and share our best knowledge that we can achieve so much more.”
South Africa is a member of the Regional Tourism Association of Southern Africa (RETOSA), whose repositioning strategy aims to increase the SADC region's global tourist arrivals from two to five percent.
“By championing regional collaboration, RETOSA will drive intra-Africa tourism because a robust domestic and regional tourism sector is essential to a thriving tourism economy in Africa. It is important that we grow African tourism together, promote our beautiful continent and encourage Africans to explore their continent. If Africa wins, then we all win,” said Minister Xasa.
Minister of Tourism Tokozile Xasa.