The tourism sec­tor has be­come an im­por­tant prop for the economy and is poised for growth — if only SA would grasp the op­por­tu­nity

Financial Mail - - FEATURE - Claire Bis­seker bis­sek­[email protected]

At a time when man­u­fac­tur­ing and min­ing are shed­ding jobs, SA’S tourism sec­tor is grow­ing roughly three times faster than the over­all economy. This is de­spite hav­ing en­dured a very dif­fi­cult year.

Cape Town lost 15%-20% of its ex­pected tourist ar­rivals due to dooms­day mes­sag­ing about Day Zero (when the taps would be turned off), and SAA shed 13% of its seat­ing ca­pac­ity on in­ter­na­tional flights be­tween March and Septem­ber when it dropped sev­eral un­prof­itable routes.

How­ever, the slack was taken up by other air­lines, so over­all seat­ing ca­pac­ity re­mained roughly flat on a year-on-year ba­sis. Next year, it should be up by 3.2%, says Olivier Ponti, vice-pres­i­dent of in­ter­na­tional travel data an­a­lyt­ics firm For­ward­keys.

Ponti shared this data at the African Lead­ers Fo­rum, held un­der the aus­pices of the World Travel & Tourism Coun­cil (WTTC) in Stel­len­bosch re­cently. The con­fer­ence con­sen­sus was that when it comes to cre­at­ing jobs, one of the most ef­fec­tive mea­sures SA could take is to pri­ori­tise tourism.

Peo­ple can be trained very quickly for jobs in this sec­tor and it is highly labour in­ten­sive, with some stud­ies es­ti­mat­ing that one job is cre­ated for ev­ery 15 tourists who visit SA. How­ever, the sec­tor sup­ports only 716,000 di­rect jobs in SA, com­pared with 4-mil­lion in Mex­ico, 2.5-mil­lion in Brazil, 2.3-mil­lion in Thai­land and 2.2-mil­lion in the Philip­pines.

SA’S tourism sec­tor is re­garded as in­ter­na­tion­ally com­pet­i­tive but is still un­der­per­form­ing. Boost­ing in­ter­na­tional tourism comes down to im­prov­ing con­nec­tiv­ity and eas­ing visa en­try. SA has moved back­wards on both scores.

More than 13,000 trav­ellers were re­fused en­try to SA in the year to June 2016 for fail­ing to meet unabridged birth cer­tifi­cate re­quire­ments, ac­cord­ing to the Tourism Busi­ness Coun­cil. Though Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa has promised that visa re­quire­ments will be re­laxed, it re­mains un­clear as to when and how this will oc­cur.

Ac­cord­ing to Ponti, visa fa­cil­i­ta­tion is the best thing a coun­try can do to corner a share of the rapidly grow­ing mar­ket of Chi­nese trav­ellers, only 1% of whom cur­rently visit Africa.

His re­search shows that Chi­nese tourist ar­rivals in­creased by 400% in Morocco and by 214% in Tu­nisia in the six months af­ter visas were abol­ished, by 85% when An­gola sim­pli­fied its visa pro­ce­dure, and by 17% when Ethiopia in­tro­duced e-visas.

WTTC pres­i­dent Glo­ria Gue­vara Manzo be­lieves SA tourism min­is­ter Derek Hanekom has a sound tourism strat­egy and has done well to ease SA’S visa re­quire­ments, but he needs to move faster and re­lax them fur­ther.

In 2010, when she was the tourism min­is­ter of Mex­ico, Gue­vara Manzo got her gov­ern­ment to ac­cept trav­ellers with US visas on the ba­sis that be­cause that visa is one of the hard­est to get, the se­cu­rity checks car­ried out by the US should more than suf­fice. In the fol­low­ing year, Mex­ico ac­cepted 1.5mil­lion visitors of other na­tion­al­i­ties who en­tered on US visas.

“It’s clear that the op­por­tu­ni­ties are in ser­vices, travel and tourism be­cause in­creas­ingly man­u­fac­tur­ing is be­com­ing au­to­mated,” she said. “Tourism can’t be ‘off-shored’ and it brings pride and pro­vides a liv­ing to com­mu­ni­ties which have no other op­tions.”

Gue­vara Manzo be­lieves mul­ti­des­ti­na­tion prod­ucts are also an im­por­tant driver of tourism, but this means coun­tries need to of­fer re­gional visas and have ef­fec­tive re­gional con­nec­tiv­ity. Th­ese are things that Sub-sa­ha­ran Africa lacks, though trav­ellers to East Africa now need only one visa for Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.

The gold stan­dard is the Schen­gen visa, which cov­ers 26 coun­tries, and the Asi­apa­cific Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion busi­ness travel card, which cov­ers 21.

Speak­ing at the con­fer­ence, Tshekedi Khama II, Botswana’s min­is­ter of tourism, agreed that African coun­tries need to col­lab­o­rate more, but said too many African lead­ers fail to re­alise that tourism is likely to be­come the main­stay of their economies.

An­other way to ac­com­mo­date more ar­rivals is to au­to­mate air­ports to re­duce queues and tran­sit times.

The Air­ports

Com­pany SA

(Acsa) has de­vel­oped e-board­ing gates that read board­ing passes elec­tron­i­cally, and is work­ing with home af­fairs to de­velop an au­to­mated im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem that will ul­ti­mately use iris scan­ners and fa­cial recog­ni­tion soft­ware to au­then­ti­cate e-pass­ports.

A phase 1 trial will start at Cape Town In­ter­na­tional Air­port in March, ac­cord­ing to Acsa COO Fundi Sithebe. SA pas­sen­gers will present a finger and their pass­port to be scanned by a ma­chine to dig­i­tally au­then­ti­cate their iden­tity.

In an­tic­i­pa­tion of in­creased tourist vol­umes over the next few years Acsa is build­ing a new, realigned run­way and a new do­mes­tic ar­rivals ter­mi­nal, and ex­pand­ing the in­ter­na­tional ter­mi­nal in Cape Town, as well as in­creas­ing the num­ber of apron stands at King Shaka In­ter­na­tional to ac­com­mo­date more air­craft.

It’s clear that the op­por­tu­ni­ties are in ser­vices, travel and tourism be­cause in­creas­ingly man­u­fac­tur­ing is be­com­ing au­to­mated Glo­ria Gue­vara Manzo

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