SA already has all the infrastructure it needs to ensure the tourism sector is at the forefront of job creation. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
SA already has all the infrastructure it needs to ensure the tourism sector is at the forefront of job creation. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Travel and tourism play a vital role in growing the economy and creating jobs. According to Stats SA, SA has 16.2-million workers and tourism directly employs 4.5% of them, accounting for a total of 726,500.

Tourism created more jobs than manufacturing and mining between 2014 and 2017. It is thus critical that the industry is protected from forces that could impede its growth and sustainability.

In 2017, travel and tourism contributed R412bn to our GDP and its direct and indirect contribution to employment is 1,530,500 jobs, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. This is a sector the government must fully embrace, and nurture its growth so it can further contribute to the economy and employment.

The tourism sector created 31,752 net new jobs in 2017. This is the greatest number of net new jobs generated by tourism within a year in at least the past eight years. It also represents the second year of employment growth after the sector saw a net loss of 12,262 jobs in 2015. This highlights the strength of the industry and why it is imperative to build and strengthen the sector in a country that has such a high unemployment rate.

To realise the full potential of the tourism industry’s impact on economy and job creation the departure point must be the urgent removal of regulatory barriers that are impeding growth. This includes immigration regulations, national public transport regulations, and sharing economy concerns.

SA is perceived as an unfriendly family travel destination. The recent amendment of the regulation [for minors] has still not inspired confidence in airlines, tour operators and travel agents to promote SA in their offerings

President Cyril Ramaphosa recognises that tourism is one of the key sectors in stimulating the economy and creating jobs. In his inauguration speech, he stated that tourism was an area that provides our country with incredible opportunities to “quite literally, shine”. He acknowledged that the industry is performing better than most other growth sectors and that there is no reason why it couldn’t double in size.

However, this sentiment has  yet to translate into the industry itself. The Tourism Business Council of SA believes government policy is a crucial area that can make or break the industry. Being sensitive to socio-political developments, the tourism industry will struggle to be profitable and sustainable if these developments are not in its favour, as was proven by the government’s decision that traveling minors would have to to carry an unabridged birth certificate — without consulting the sector.

This regulation continues to have a significant negative impact on tourism as SA is perceived as an unfriendly family travel destination. The recent amendment of the regulation has still not inspired confidence in airlines, tour operators and travel agents to promote SA in their offerings. The statistics shows that key markets’ arrivals are stagnant and the industry’s forward bookings have not improved.

Travel and tourism are low hanging fruit that can stimulate the economy and create more jobs. Unlike many industries that need the building of factories and buying of equipment, and other capital expenditure, tourism is about our culture, food, wildlife, iconic mountains, breathtaking scenery, cities and, most importantly, who we are. We already have tourism infrastructure that surpasses that of many of our competitors.

To boost the economy and create jobs, the council suggests that the following actions be taken urgently by government, in consultation with the industry:

  • The urgent introduction of online visa application with fast turnaround time
  • Granting visa waivers to more countries
  • Suspending the confusing travel requirement for minors to promote family travel

Many countries around the world that have introduced these systems, granted visa waivers and simplified immigration have significantly grown their tourist arrivals. If these suggestions are implemented we could increase arrivals by 6% a year, to a point where we could see 14.5-million arrivals in 2024 — and possibly 21-million arrivals in 2030.

This would have a significant positive impact on job creation in a country that has such a high unemployment rate.

• Tshivhengwa is CEO of the Tourism Business Council of SA.