Africa's Travel Indaba concluded over the weekend, and President Cyril Ramaphosa has made it clear that South Africa's tourism industry is open for business.
Despite some push-back against the new proposed tourism bill and ongoing discussions around the country's visa processes, the general message at this year's conference is that African countries need to stand together to market the continent as a whole.
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Ramaphosa, keeping busy on the campaign trail in the lead-up to the national elections on 8 May, addressed Indaba delegates on this camaraderie among tourism stakeholders across Africa's borders, and highlighted the challenges that needed to be addressed in order to harvest the 'new gold' locked in this sector.
"It is an age where the end-to-end travel experience has been optimised through technology – where decisions on where to go and where to stay, and where not to go and where not to stay, are made on the basis of peer review," said Ramaphosa."This means that we have to marshal all the means at our disposal to show that we have what it takes to be that destination and to offer that experience that tourists want.
He addressed ten main challenges that are highlighted as top priorities for his administration.
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The first and biggest challenge, that even Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom called out on in his introduction of the president, is the issue of visas.
Plans are said to be in place to reduce the red tape, streamline the systems and introduce e-visas as soon as possible.
"As South Africa, we are committed to working towards the African Union’s goal of visa-free travel and a single African air transport market," added Ramaphosa.
A big deterrent to not only South Africa, but Africa as a whole, is the perception of crime, especially for Asian tourists.
More resources need to tackle the issue, specifically crimes against tourists, that are similar to that of Kenya's Safety and Communication Centre and the Tourism Police in Uganda.
Not only is this a benefit for tourists, but for citizens as well.
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Another big initiative from SA Tourism is boosting the number of domestic travellers in South Africa, as this will have knock-on effects for international travellers as well.
One of the initiatives in this regard is the Sho't Left Travel Week, which launched last year. Held in September, locals can get up to 50% deals on a host of tourism offerings from accommodation to experiences to transport.
They have already started appealing to tourism stakeholders to send them their deals, and will start their consumer campaign in July.
"As governments we need to actively seek out private sector partners for the establishment of new tourism products and offerings. To do this, we must forge stronger public-private partnerships," said Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa also pointed out the fact that departments within government sometimes work in isolation from each other, and thus there's a need to have more cooperation between them and agencies to further promote the country's tourism goals.
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Tourism businesses are dependent on working infrastructure as much as any citizen of a country. "Tourists don't want to visit dirty places" and by upgrading our facilities we become more attractive to potential tourists.
Youth and women are key targets to grow within the sector, not just as workers but as managers and owners of tourism products.
"This industry must be positioned as a key empowering sector of the economy whose power we should unleash and use to change the lives of people in our urban and rural areas."
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As mentioned, there shouldn't just be a focus on promoting South Africa as a tourist destination, but also the continent as a whole.
Africa is a brand that must be built together not just for the rest of the world, but for our own people.
SA Tourism has also pinpointed Nigeria, alongside China and India, as a key traveller market to push for growth in South Africa.
"In a few years to come a tourist will land at our airports and have a self-driven car taking them to pre-programmed tourist destinations. We even might soon have to design tourism offerings for robots."
Access to technological advances in the tourism industry can be unequally distributed within the industry, but there remains a need to embrace it, especially when it comes to visibility on the internet and utilising artificial intelligence for digital bookings.
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The quality of our tourism products needs to adhere to international standards and requirements in order to be adequately competitive on a global scale.
"This Indaba, with all that it offers, is a testimony to the fact that Africa is a continent of innovation with a strong focus on the future. We are a continent that is open and welcoming. When it comes to tourism and many other areas of human endeavour, we are a continent on the move."
"Let’s go and build a brave new world that will attract the world to come back home to Africa."
Africa's Travel and Tourism Indaba took place at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre in Durban from 2 - 4 May. As Africa's leading trade show, it sees some 7 000 delegates attending from 80 different countries.
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