Tourism in 2018: What to expect from SA's newly approved growth strategy

2017-12-20 06:30 - Selene Brophy
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Cape Town - As Africa is expected to increase its share of the global tourism pie in the coming years by an estimated 7%, from its current 3%, Cabinet has approved the National Tourism Sector Strategy (NTSS) for 2016 – 2026 with the aim of growing and improving tourism to South Africa. 

According to a Grant Thornton Study, by 2030 Africa can expect to see some 134 million arrivals, rather paltry in comparison to the 1.8 billion tourists expected to be on the move and exploring the globe by then.

And yet, emerging economy destinations such as South Africa are expected to surpass advanced destinations as tourists seek out the new and yet to be discovered experiences – with leisure and holiday travel retaining the lion's share of why people will travel in the next decade and a half. 

But what and how does the NTSS aim to propel SA towards its goal of encouraging more international and domestic travel?

The first NTSS was published in 2011, as a ten-year strategy aimed at increasing tourism’s direct contribution to South Africa’s economy and jobs within the tourism sector. Its review - initiated in 2015 to ensure that the strategy remains relevant in a rapidly changing global environment as well as to align it to the NDP and the Tourism Act 3 of 2014 - has since been approved. 

Traveller24 caught up with the Minister of Tourism Tokozile Xasa to find out what the immediate implications and benefits of the newly approved NTSS are - a sector wide strategy, designed to enhance the National Development Plan (NDP). 

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Clear targets to increase R118bn to R302m GDP contribution by 2026

“This approval comes at a particularly exciting time for tourism globally and in South Africa,” says Xasa.

“Tourism destinations need to position themselves to take advantage of this sector’s growth trajectory. The NTSS is therefore well placed to respond to the country’s development imperatives and transformation agenda." 

“Through the strategy, we aim to further increase the direct contribution of tourism to the economy through partnerships, research based collaborative planning, and the implementation of agreed priority actions underpinned by Responsible Tourism,” says Xasa.

 “The NTSS has set clear targets in respect of increasing the direct contribution of tourism to the GDP from R118 billion in 2015 to 302 billion in 2026, while increasing direct jobs supported by the sector from 702 824 to 1 million,” says Xasa.   

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Tourism’s short term, to-do list for 2018

When asked what the department's short term plans are for 2018 in light of the approved NTSS, Xasa says many of the department's goals are in collaboration with other key departments - with NTSS hinged on five strategic pillars, which include Effective Marketing, Facilitating Ease of Access, Visitor Experience, Destination Management and Broad-Based Benefits. 

“The department has always emphasised that the NTSS is a sector strategy. As such implementation is through actions undertaken by the various constituent parts and outlines comprehensive action plans for implementation by various stakeholders within the tourism value chain.

The Department, for its part says Xasa, has "destination enhancement initiatives to improve the offering and expand access to tourist sites for both for the domestic and international markets in its sights“. 

These programmes include "Coastal and Marine Tourism, Sector support services which include structured interventions for the local government sphere and Transformation through Market Access Incentives, Enterprise Development and SMME incubation".

Xasa says this includes, "Implementation of an expanded domestic tourism strategy based on consumer insights; the development and implementation of an international tourism relations plan to leverage on diplomatic and multilateral affairs; as well as regional and local campaigns to create and expand opportunities for domestic travel working with local and regional tourism organisations."

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'Heightened focus on Responsible Tourism'

Xasa says challenges being experienced in Cape Town in respect of water give "impetus to the need for tourism to truly consider future generations as it consumes resources to offer the tourism experience".

"The 1996 White Paper on the Development of Tourism highlights being responsible as an approach to tourism which was further emphasised by the Tourism Act 2014. Strides have already been made towards mainstreaming Responsible Tourism as we aim to be among the Top Responsible Tourism Destinations as we move towards 2026." 

Xasa says further actions will be identified on an annual basis as implementation continues and modifications are identified in close interaction with all sector stakeholders.

"Responsible Tourism is about a sustainable approach to tourism. It is an approach that requires the efficient management of resources that are integral to the tourism offering (e.g. water and energy) and the respect of host communities in respect of the cultures so that the negative impacts of tourism can be mitigated." 

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Improved visitor experience

Partnerships remain an integral part of how the department plans to achieve the objectives of the NTSS.

"The constant engagement with industry and the other spheres of government is the main partnership that has delivered growth for the tourism economy.  Tourism planning and development can only be achieved through each partner doing their bit as tourism is by nature multi-sectoral with various players in the value chain contributing to the visitor experience," says Xasa.

In order to achieve customer satisfaction and inspire repeat visitation, the NTSS seeks to create experiences that are "distinctive, environmentally friendly and authentic for both domestic and international travellers".

Xasa says this pillar includes enhancements to elements of the visitor experience across all visitor touch point - such as improvements to "safety, information, cleanliness, attractiveness and tourist infrastructure needed to meet visitor demand". 

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Digitisation is the future

For the year ahead, Xasa says trends include the digitisation of tourism alongside other sectors of the economy and the increased ease of access in respect of many tourism destinations.

"Focus areas include ongoing efforts in close liaison with the Departments of Home Affairs and Transport to enhance the ease of the facilitation of travel. 

Xasa highlights that the expansion of wi-fi access is being facilitated, "commencing with World Heritage Sites, and the inclusion of online information has been recommended for tourism grading criteria".  

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Airlift remains key 

The NTSS outlines aviation as vital role in bringing visitors from all over the globe to experience the beauty and hospitality of the region.

"South Africa is a long-haul destination for the main overseas tourist markets and the facilitation of air connectivity with prioritised markets must remain a top priority. The cost of air transport remains a major barrier for travel to South Africa, even though the destination provides exceptional value for money. 

Xasa says the NTSS aims to produce a better understanding of airlift barriers, including air service agreements between countries, routing, capacity and load factors, slots and pricing, as well as cost input for airlines, amongst others, is required. 

"This will allow for the aviation and air transport industry and the relevant Departments to better motivate and plan for changes where required to improve the South Africa’s air accessibility.

Furthermore, the need to create a conducive business environment for emerging tourism businesses to ensure their participation in the tourism economy cannot be overemphasised, she says.

"Airlift is actively monitored to identify gaps and ensure that tourism inputs are brought to bear on bilateral air service agreements. This would require the implementation of a plan to simplify the regulatory requirements for tourism businesses within all spheres of government."

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Ease of access

Issues that limit the ability of potential international and domestic tourists to travel to and within South Africa are also firmly on the radar. 

"Even with the best branding, marketing ang product, the growth of the sector will be impacted if restrictive conditions are maintained in the regulatory environment. If there is improved ease of access, tourism numbers will increase.

"Overall, regulations are a necessity to provide guidelines for business practices; however, their unintended consequences could become a barrier. Therefore, it is imperative that the sector provides inputs in the development and review of regulatory instruments with an impact on tourism from inception on a regular basis.

Xasa says the design and implementation of an Accredited Tourism Company Programme (ATCP) for markets is a further part of the NTSS.

"Measures already in place have resulted in a rapid positive response in visitor numbers. While the role for industry partners is largely confined to ensuring visa, requirements are correctly communicated to all travel partners to facilitate travel, it also involves monitoring and communicating problems in respect of visa processing capacities and turn-around times.  The industry, together with the NDT will ensure that the system to accredit such companies is well understood, supported and that there is proper compliance."

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And while ease of access remains a crucial pillar, not much has been revealed as Xasa says that when it comes to the anticipated roll-out of the African Union passport, the department would be "guided by the country position on the AU passport".

"Lead departments are DIRCO and Home Affairs, with which the department already works closely. Tourism inputs are channelled through intergovernmental structures in which the Department participates."

But for Xasa, 2018 is firmly focused on the department's jobs and GDP contribution targets - aiming to meet its delivery "thorough both the supply and demand side. 

"The Department will lead, support, monitor and evaluate the implementation of the NTSS. In addition, the strategy provides for institutional arrangements and structures for public and private sector participation to ensure coordinated implementation efforts.

“I would like to convey my gratitude to the Panel of Experts that oversaw the process, as well as the public and private sector stakeholders who took part in the revision of the NTSS.  It is without a doubt only through these kinds of partnerships that we can effectively implement this strategy and Do Tourism successfully,” she says. 

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