Cape Town - It’s World Tourism Day.
The United Nations General Assembly declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Why? Because tourism can contribute significantly in an economic, social and environmental way towards sustainable development of not only individual countries - but the world at large.
Not only does the sector spearhead growth, it also improves the quality of people’s lives - and that couldn’t be more necessary than in South Africa, where more than 50% of the population is classified as poor.
And largely as a tourism destination, we are winning the hearts and minds of the more than 10 million foreign visitors a year, with a remarkable 12.8% international arrivals to South African in 2016 - off the back of some serious challenges.
SEE: SA 'outperforms Thailand and Australia' as domestic tourism still lags
Yet when you consider that there were some 1.2 billion international travellers in 2016, less than five percent of those came to Africa, and one percent to South Africa, “to a large extent, we’re still undiscovered," says South African Tourism’s Chief Executive Officer Sisa Ntshona
Undiscovered, until a group of Dutch tourists are robbed, just after leaving the airport.
And sadly, they’re not the only ones - follow-home robberies have been in the spotlight for a while - it just so happens that this one took place now. Just before World Tourism Day - See News24’s coverage of the incident which took place as the group was on their way to the hotel between Johannesburg and Pretoria on Sunday night.
“This act of criminality we take it seriously, the actions we will take must serve as clear sign that criminality will never be tolerated in our country,” says Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula.
While South African Tourism echoes the sentiments raised by Mbalula and Minister of Tourism, Tokozile Xasa after they visited the group to offer their support - how do we make these and the other 10m+ visitors feel safer?
The visit was prior to the group’s departure back to the Netherlands on Tuesday evening - that’s right - they just packed up and left. But can we blame them?
Ntshona says, “It is incidents like these that set us back and erode the investments made in positioning South Africa as a desirable tourism destination globally. The police investigation is ongoing and all efforts are being made to resolve this crime.”
And it’s a huge investment of some R2.1bn - but with a return of R75bn direct spend by international travellers in 2016, surely well worth it?
SEE: R2.1bn budget to ensure 'tourism helps the people of SA rise'
Ultimately the understanding it that this investment will lead to much-needed job-creation, small business entrepreneurial gains and result in some radical economic transformation.
Ntshona says the situation is deeply saddening, and that as a nation, one that is hoping to recapture its 2010 gees, with a bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup - we need to see some form of radical change when it comes to the approach of safety for our travellers and tourists.
Travel and tourism as a sustainable economic option in light of the rather fraught, junk-status tunnel is so much more than a numbers game. It’s an amplified game of word of mouth - something we as South Africans understand all too well - you only need to watch this video to know what we’re talking about.
SEE: WATCH: This short film captures SA heritage storytelling at its best
But when 38 Dutch tourists don’t have a good story to tell it, we undoubtedly can expect those ramifications to be amplified threefold if not more - and so on and so forth. Because what we’ve come to understand in this very connected digital world is that more and more we demand to “feel safe and secure“ and above all we trust the recommendations of those closest to us.
“We sincerely apologise to these tourists and the local tour operator team who had to go through this ordeal. It is important for all travellers to feel safe, secure and relaxed when they arrive, travel within and depart from South Africa – that is the promise we make to them and that’s the promise we must keep, collectively as a nation,” says Ntshona.
There is no denying the South African Police Service together with ACSA have been working hard to combat criminal activities in and around OR Tambo, and continue to do so.
SEE: WATCH: Road access to OR Tambo to be limited in new safety plan
But in this instance it is not hard enough. And while all passengers, the guide and the driver thankfully escaped serious injury and received full support and assistance with all arrangements for them to return to the Netherlands post the incident - is it as simple as making a promise to try and do the right thing - when often so many around us are not?
“We will have to work tirelessly, work hard and smartly to regain the lost confidence," says Ntshona
“Despite the unfortunate nature of this incident, we will not be deterred from continuing to put all efforts in making sure that our country remains a must visit tourism destination. Tourism relies on all South Africans to pull together.
“As an important contributor to our economy and with our collective efforts we will make sure that it continues to flourish."
Because as the trending #WTD2017 hashtag on social media shows - we're vying against the best of the best - with so much to lose if we don't.
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