Challenges and opportunities face South Africa’s tourism industry


Service level inconsistency, skills retention and the need for integrated transport systems are some of the key challenges facing the travel and tourism industry in South Africa (SA).

These were some of the issues that emerged during a discussion between Mmatsatsi Ramawela, CEO Tourism Business Council SA (TBCSA) and Dawn Robertson, CEO Gauteng Tourism.

Ramawela said that while there were pockets of service excellence, SA needed consistent service levels across the value chain. People in the sector needed to provide service with a smile to ensure the best visitor experience possible, she said.

The tourism sector battled to retain skilled people, said Ramawela. She suggested that the trade needed to make sure people saw a future for themselves in the industry in order to address this issue. “We need to become a sector that allows you to be proud and resonate what your country stands for,” she said.

Both Ramawela and Robertson emphasized the need to provide an integrated transport systems. “We don’t want potholes,” Ramawela added.

She also suggested that SA faced the challenge of being a long-haul destination for many key source markets. For this reason, she said, SA needed to address air connectivity and attract more airlines. Moreover, she said, visa issues negatively impacted travel from countries such as China, which had been identified as a key source market. “Government needs to capacitate its foreign offices to speed up visa application,” she said.

Robertson said political buy-in was crucial to success in the tourism industry, adding that the government could not do it alone. Gauteng Tourism saw its role as providing an enabling environment for tourism businesses, said Robertson. She added that there was a need to make it simpler for people to get investment.

According to Robertson, Gauteng Tourism has assisted in cutting the red tape that was needed to facilitate the Hop on, Hop off tour buses in Johannesburg. The association had also collaborated with the industry to put together the Gauteng Signature Collection, which was a collection of tourism products in the province that would be used to attract travelers and then disperse them to other tourism products. “You create the products and we’ll help take product to market,” she told the trade.

Speaking about some of the opportunities within the industry, Robertson said that if SA continued to grow visitor numbers, the industry would overcome low occupancy rates. She added that the tourism industry needed to capitalize on the ability of bloggers to act as influencers and embrace technology. Robertson also emphasized the crucial role played by SMMEs in the sector.

“SA is blessed with many things, including vibrant sectors,” said Ramawela. She also highlighted the need for South Africans to build the reputation of SA as a tourism industry, arguing that South Africans often talked the country down. “In the next 10 years we’ll get our head around challenges,” Ramawela concluded.