The 2023 Tourism Business Council of South Africa Leadership Conference is underway in Sun City in the North West. In its second year, the conference has brought together stakeholders from the public and private sectors, as well as dignitaries, guests, and delegates who are contributors to the local and global tourism industry value chain. The theme for this year’s TBCSA Leadership Conference is Tourism: The Engine for Growth. We have retained the same theme from last year to emphasize our unwavering mission to be the driver of economic growth and job creation in South Africa.
Tourism is the one sector of the economy that has consistently shown resilience as the country recovers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and deals with the effects of local and global financial headwinds. On the local front, slow economic growth, the rising cost of living, and persistent load-shedding among others continue to pose a challenge to the revival and recovery of the industry.
Results of the latest TBCSA’s Tourism Business Index (TBI) reflect the industry’s challenges for the first half of 2023. They show that the below-normal business performance was driven largely by the energy crisis (load-shedding). The accommodation sector has been the worst affected, with high input costs caused by load shedding, as well as inflation negatively impacting business performance.
A Glimmer of Hope
Some of these challenges have presented an opportunity for the Tourism industry to be agile and innovative. In response to the persistent rotational power cuts, for instance, many of the stakeholders in our sector have transitioned to renewable energy sources. In finding a solution to the load-shedding problem using renewable energy sources, the tourism ecosystem is now contributing meaningfully to the sustainability of the environment.
The discussions and deliberations on the state of Tourism in South Africa are taking place within the context of positive growth forecasts for the sector. The outlook for the remainder of 2023 is positive, with near “normal” performance expected. Data from Statistics South Africa show that in the first six months of the year (January to July 2023), foreign tourism arrivals for the period exceeded 2019 and even 2018 levels for the same period. The strong recovery is driven mainly by our African market. In comparison, the recovery of our high-spending overseas market is lagging in 2019 (14% down) and 2018 (16% down) numbers.
“We remain hopeful that the strong foreign arrivals recovery will continue as positive sentiment returns to our industry. Feedback from the industry on future booking levels is optimistic as strong overseas arrivals as well as improved domestic demand, are anticipated for the second half of 2023,” says TBCSA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa.
The industry’s mission to curate memorable experiences for visitors to South Africa remains a top priority. Through the Leadership Conference, all stakeholders will have an opportunity to find each other in achieving common national goals. In his opening address, TBCSA Board Chair Blacky Komani emphasized the importance of the relationship between the private and public sectors. “We want our partners in government to know that our sector is well-organised, and we are here to ask the public sector to co-create solutions with us. As a sector, we have the necessary skills and resources to work with them to solve the challenges we face as an industry” says Komani.
What needs to happen?
To accelerate the recovery of our industry, specifically the overseas market, tourism stakeholders have indicated that the sector needs significant investment into destination marketing in our key source markets as well as addressing growing concerns around safety and security.
In partnership with public service partners, we need to develop a fully automated world-class e-visa system with improved airport e-infrastructure. The easing of red tape in the issuing of visas can help boost arrivals and improve the ease of travel for our visitors from the continent and overseas. The conversation on the waiving of visas for visitors from source markets is being advanced and actioned as thus.
During a Q&A session on Day 1 of the Leadership Conference, Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi shared that his department is working to expand to e-visa system to include other visas such as study, business travel and eventually travelling groups. He says Home Affairs is aware of the backlogs in the issuing of visas, and that work is being done to address them.
“We want as many people as people to come into the country. But my priority is to ensure that it is the right kind of people who are allowed into South Africa. Our responsibility is to ensure that undesirable people do not enter the country,” Motsoaledi explains.
It is also our collective duty to improve safety and security in key tourist routes and areas. Public and private partnerships can radically improve the security of our tourists. In achieving our goals, it is important to ensure that communities are stakeholders in the Tourism value chain, to ensure solid collaborations in the areas of security and sustainability.
Tourism Minister Patricia De Lille has re-emphasized the government’s commitment to break the barriers that inhibit the growth and potential of tourism in South Africa. Minister De Lille says her department has been working tirelessly with industry stakeholders to ease the backlogs in the issuing of operating licenses for tour operators, ensuring timeous issuing of visas, ensuring the safety of tourists, and expediting other outstanding matters that affect the industry.
“ Boosting the level of engagement between us to drive a more ambitious vision for the economy, is exactly what we need to enable job creation and fostering the ease of doing business, by building better synergies. We must do more to aggressively market and promote our destination with one clear message and voice,” says De Lille.