South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Tourism, Fish Mahlalela, recently emphasized the critical importance of prioritizing tourism as a central focus for the entire government. This declaration came during a Tourism Month debate in the National Council of Provinces, held under the theme: ‘Building viable tourism spaces and facilities for local development.’
The Economic Impact of Tourism
Mahlalela underscored how effective collaboration across government departments could unlock the full economic potential of tourism in South Africa. He highlighted that various government services and infrastructure play pivotal roles in enhancing the overall tourist experience. For instance:
- The quality of roads can significantly impact travel within the country, making it more attractive to tourists.
- Accommodations like hotels and lodges are vital for providing comfortable stays for visitors.
- Malls and attractions contribute to the overall appeal of a destination.
- Access to communication networks, including the internet, is crucial for both domestic and international tourists.
Mahlalela emphasized that optimizing these elements can encourage tourists to stay longer, spend more, and return to South Africa repeatedly. Furthermore, he stressed that local governments could leverage tourism to create jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities, not only through government support but also by tapping into non-government initiatives.
Local Tourism Challenges
While Deputy Minister Mahlalela’s vision for prioritizing tourism is promising, some Members of Parliament have raised concerns about the state of tourism at the local level. Noluvuyo Tafeni, an Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MP, argued that tourism’s benefits have not sufficiently reached impoverished communities. She lamented the decline of township tourism, which was once vibrant with historical and political significance but now struggles with crime-related issues.
Nhlanhla Radebe from the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) echoed Tafeni’s sentiments, highlighting that while there may be plans on paper, the supporting infrastructure has deteriorated, rendering it useless. In some areas of Northern KwaZulu-Natal, incredible landscapes that could attract tourists have been hindered by poor road conditions, leading to the closure of international resorts and job losses.
Shifting Focus to Local and Domestic Tourism
DA MP Sonia Boshoff emphasized the need to adapt to changing circumstances, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. She argued that South Africa should place more emphasis on local and domestic tourism, as it has proven to be a significant job creator. Boshoff pointed out that this approach involves employing local residents in hotels and as tour guides, catering to a wide range of skills and educational levels.
Celebrating Tourism Month
South Africa celebrates Tourism Month throughout September, providing an excellent opportunity for reflection and action. Deputy Minister Fish Mahlalela’s call to prioritize tourism is a crucial step towards harnessing the immense economic potential of the industry and ensuring that the benefits reach all corners of the nation.
Promoting tourism should indeed be a top priority for the South African government. By working together to improve infrastructure, support local businesses, and address challenges at the grassroots level, South Africa can unlock its tourism potential and create a more inclusive and prosperous industry. As the country celebrates Tourism Month, it is a reminder of the vital role tourism plays in the nation’s economic development and cultural exchange.