Tourism decline shows others eating SA's lunch

Carin Smith

Cape Town - The worrisome decline in international tourism numbers is a sign that South Africa is shooting itself in the foot and allowing other destinations to lure those tourists away, warned Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (Fedhasa).

"While SA's tourism arrivals are going down, those to Thailand and Australia are going up. Someone is eating our lunch, because we are scoring own goals," he told members of the Western Cape branch of Fedhasa on Wednesday.

"Fewer tourists means our occupancy will be down. This not only affects hotels and guest houses, but companies supplying them with flowers, cleaning solutions and even gardening, for instance," explained Tshivhengwa.

"SA has introduced its new visa regulations at a time when there are already other factors burdening our industry. Now another hurdle has been added. Tourists should not be required to take a trip to get a visa in order to take a trip."

It is a pity, in his view, that the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) is not represented on the inter-ministerial committee reviewing the impact of the new visa regulations on the SA tourism industry. Fedhasa is presented at the TBCSA.

If a workable solution for South Africa's new visa regulations is not found soon, job losses will be the result by next year, he warned.

"So far - from what we have heard - indications are that we cannot expect much change to come from the inter-ministerial committee on the visa issue. There seems to be a rigidity and lack of understanding on the side of Home Affairs," he said.

"We are looking to find new ways to get government to talk to us, since we actually have the knowledge of the hospitality industry. We need to be able to do our work and create jobs."

Tshivhengwa repeatedly emphasised that Fedhasa is not against the visa regulations per se, but against the introduction thereof when they cannot be implemented properly.

"Fedhasa has been told that we don't like children and that we support child trafficking. That is not true. We are just pointing out that no one can show us statistics on the size of the problem. Yes, they say even one child trafficked is one too many, but we say we need to know the size of the problem to know what measures to put in place," he explained.

"Children are likely not trafficked through our airports, but via our porous borders. We are just saying that if the government cannot implement the new regulations properly, it must be stopped until it can be done properly."

He would like to see Fedhasa raise its voice more in order to help shape government policy affecting the hospitality industry, including the standards set.

"We should not be a voice of silence or a voice of unnecessary noise, but a voice of reason, because we are the ones with the knowledge," said Tshivhengwa.