Picture: 123RF/TRANIKOV STUDIO
Picture: 123RF/TRANIKOV STUDIO

Who would deny Fatgiyah Bardien’s statement that the SA tourism sector needs all the help it can get? (“Let’s accept transformation in tourism has to take place”, May 13). She argues that the Tourism Equity Fund (TEF), launched four months ago, is a vehicle to achieve this as it aims to transform the industry by providing black-owned tourism projects with financial backing.

Bardien works from the premise that “the tourism industry does need to be transformed”. Yet before Covid-19 the industry was a success story of expansion, opportunity, increasing inclusion and profitability. What then needs to be transformed? 

The answer to this comes in a further statement: “the government ... is trying to fix a market failure”.  This failure is seen as the fact that those providing tourism services are largely white-owned or white-managed businesses — in other words the racial composition of the business is “wrong”. But as a definition of market failure this is incorrect.

A market is the interchange of business between service providers and clients: it involves transaction, not transformation. Moving the focus from what is being delivered to who is doing the delivering may result in the goods being dropped. 

This shift of focus is dangerous: even if transformation is desirable, if the market falls away everything is lost. A tourism market is difficult to build and maintain. Tourism is not an essential good. There are many other destinations out there that are cheaper and closer and offer good value. People coming to SA have to go the extra mile, in both time and expense.

That tourism here has expanded so successfully since 1994 is underpinned by establishing good contacts, good marketing, international reach and experience as well as innovative strategies. These qualities are largely found in present service providers, but with Covid having knocked the bottom out of the tourist market (75% fewer tourists last year), they too need financial assistance to avoid having to shut down.

Bringing back that tourism trade requires established operators to be around, those with experience, contacts and reputation. Exclusion from the TEF owing to their not being black-managed or black-owned could result in a loss of valuable skills and client bases. The whole industry needs assistance: prioritising transformation over the allocation of relief in a nonracial manner is unfair and lacks business sense. 

At such a difficult time in the SA tourism industry the priority should be to maintain what has worked and re-establish the momentum tourism was gathering before Covid-19. The potential for new business is then more likely. There is little point in equipping new black-owned and black-run businesses if what results is business that are all dressed up with everywhere to go, but with no-one to take there.

Roger Graham
Meadowridge

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