Protests, crime driving away tourists: Tourism boss

Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane says crime has a negative impact on the sector.

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa could be attracting as much as double the 10 million tourists currently flocking into the country yearly if it wasn’t for crime, service delivery protests and deteriorating infrastructure.

These factors, the state of our roads and other infrastructure pose a serious threat to the R40.1-billion tourism industry, the Tourism Business Council of SA has warned.

The council’s CEO, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, said crime topped the list of things tourists worry about when visiting South Africa.

READ: Cape Town ranked 11th deadliest city globally

And if safety was not an issue, the country could be welcoming 15 million to 20 million visitors a year compared with the current 10.4 million.

One job is created for every 12 tourists.

The frequent service delivery protests, during which communities block roads leading to popular tourist sites, are a nightmare for tour operators, he said.

READ: Crime has negative impact on tourism sector, says minister

Tshivhengwa said: “Violence against tourists is equivalent to economic crimes such as stealing copper cables and gold, and something must be done.”

The council and the country’s other tourism stakeholders have recently been up in arms, putting pressure on Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane and the parliamentary portfolio committee on tourism to come up with solutions.

“Over the past 20 years, one of the things that tourists are worried about is their safety. This has been one of the inhibitors to growth … if it were not for this we would be sitting on 15 million to 20 million visitors a year,” Tshivhengwa said.

“As a country, we’ve got everything that any tourist would want to see and it’s quite important that they feel safe. We have, however, seen a recurrence of the same crimes against tourists in the past few months and this calls for us to look at tourism differently as it creates jobs. It’s labour intensive and doesn’t require too much infrastructure.”

READ: SA announces visa waivers to boost tourism

Tshivhengwa said South Africa needed to deal with visa reforms in order to attract more tourists.

He said the country should be looking at unlocking the Chinese and Indian markets where economic growth is sustained.

“Leaders must look at these problems differently and carefully. People protest and block roads that lead to tourism sites."

This has an impact on tourism operators who can be sued for not living up to expectations when they have no access to places. We’ve seen tourists saying they were not going to visit Cape Town when there was a water crisis. These are all the issue leaders must look at,” Tshivhengwa said.

READ: Cele concedes Cape Town murder rate still too high

This year alone, a number of high profile attacks on tourists have taken place. These include 14 separate attacks on Table Mountain alone.

Ukrainian tourist, Ivan Ivanov, was attacked by three men and killed while hiking at the popular East Fort above Chapman’s Peak last month.

A group of tourists were followed from the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and attacked at African Pride Irene Country Lodge in Centurion.

They were robbed of their jewellery and cellphones.

READ: Far from Cape Town tourist sites, a gangland battle rages

Kubayi-Ngubane recently announced that her department was working with various stakeholders to compile a safety plan.

It will include the tourism monitors programme, the development of a safety mobile app to provide tourists with basic tourism information and safety tips with relevant contact details that tourists in distress can use.

Already 86 tourist monitors have been deployed on Table Mountain.

The department is also looking at arming tourist monitors with technology by replicating a Kruger National Park model where rangers, drones and cameras are being deployed to monitor rhino poaching.

READ: City to tackle Table Mountain attacks

Last year, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) annual review found that South Africa was the largest tourism economy in Africa.

Travel and tourism contributed 1.5 million jobs – or 9.2 percent of total employment – and injected R425.8-billion into the economy last year, representing 8.6 percent of all economic activity in the country.

International tourist arrivals grew by 1.8 percent (10.5 million) from January to December, compared with 2017.

The South African tourism industry received 64 percent leisure travellers while 36 percent were business travellers.

The WTTC has been researching the impact of tourism across 185 countries over the past 25 years.