On November 17, prior to the commencement of the annual South African Lilizela Tourism Awards, Deputy Minister of Tourism, Elizabeth Thabete, Director-General of the Department of Tourism, Victor Tharage, and CEO of SA Tourism, Sisa Ntshona, addressed members of the media on various developments in the tourism space.
The briefing focused on the role that SMMEs are – and should be – playing in the greater tourism landscape, with Thabete saying that, in a year, the tourism sector had supported around 400 SMMEs, with entrepreneurial development, assistance with other issues related to business, and business incubators. There were five incubators across the provinces, said Thabete, and hidden gems tapped into the resources provided by their provincial incubators.
She said SA Tourism then assisted participating SMMEs with training and mentorship, and with exposure to international showcases such as IMEX in Frankfurt – a three-day exhibition for incentive travel, meetings and events – that allowed them to connect with over 3 500 suppliers from every sector of the worldwide meetings industry.
Tharage added that incentives such as market access and for energy efficiency were offered to small businesses, and another fund had been introduced – the Tourism Transformation Fund – which would provide R120m (€7.5m) funding over a three-year period.
Ntshona said new SMME players in the industry needed to be promoted, but that it came with a premise. “They mustn’t bring more of the same to the table; they need to be innovative and bring something different, such as township or rural tourism, which are growing tourism sectors, to add to our tourism offering.”
Plans in the pipeline
Thabete said, still within this financial year, the tourism industry would be hosting an Innovation Conference.
“The intention is to bring together the best minds to address some of the innovative projects in the tourism market, which require capitalisation or policy/administrative support to kick off,” explained Blessing Manale, Chief Director of Communications of the Department of Tourism. “The agenda will include innovation in marketing, safety, statistics-gathering, e-visas, and information security, amongst others. We will also be looking into the opportunities our innovation projects may present as tourism destinations, for example SKA/Meerkat Site Visitor Centre, CSIR projects, hosting of science summits, and so forth.”
Eco-tourism was another sector that would be looked at, added Thabete. She did, however, affirm that the Department was “tired of talkshops – we want to see investment moving”.
A lot will be happening in the next few weeks of 2018, including the Minister and Deputy Minister of Tourism taking the Tourism Amendment Bill to Cabinet. This would be done before the December recess, said Manale. “Once approved by Cabinet, it will be gazetted for public comments and the final bill will return to Cabinet after the State of Nation Address, for sign-off and tabling in Parliament for approval by both houses. It should be passed before Parliament is dissolved in March/April 2019. A national campaign will then be executed in various formats, targeting both industry and affected stakeholders [to inform the industry of the changes].”
In closing, Ntshona said that while 2018 had not been quite what the country had hoped for in terms of tourism, a lot had been achieved. “We are encouraged by changes in the visa regime, such as the waivers for 20 countries, as well as the imminent trial of e-visas to the New Zealand market. We also look forward to the clarification of the way forward with unabridged birth certificates. We are gearing up for a good 2019.”