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Open Letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa

Authored by FEDHASA, the voice of hospitality in South Africa

Mr President,

There’s an air of anticipation in the countdown to tonight’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Those South Africans lucky enough to be able to watch the pomp and ceremony of the first in-person SONA in two years will have high expectations that swift and radical changes will be announced to mitigate the devastating impact of loadshedding on their day to day.

The energy crisis is but one thing keeping South Africa’s hospitality sector up at night – a considerable impediment, but sadly not the only one.

As hospitality providers countrywide spend hundreds of millions in generator infrastructure and diesel to keep the lights on for guests, more millions are poured into trucking in water in areas where the water supply is either unsafe to drink or intermittently supplied.

Raw sewerage seeps onto some of South Africa’s most beautiful beaches. Wildlife poaching has reached critical levels. Hotels pay exorbitant service fees to private-security providers to keep their guests safe from crime.

That’s a lot to keep one up at night, Mr President. But really when you have millions of South Africans demanding change, one can hardly pay attention to the needs of a few hundred thousand foreign tourists.

So, do we anticipate you will be announcing any swift and radical efforts to deal with these impediments to tourism growth in tonight’s SONA? Perhaps even a mention of tourism? Categorically not.

Not while ordinary South Africans and indeed your government continue to treat the industry as one that is characterised by people “living their best lives” on holiday with family and friends. This week’s Mining Indaba refers – tourism is also about global connectivity for business leaders and the reason why many South Africans in business tourism are able to put food on their table.

Tourism can be South Africa’s economic lifeline

What was missed in the Tottenham Hotspur fiasco of the past week was the further reputational damage suffered by tourism, painted as an unsympathetic and unnecessary trade-off against the urgently needed spend on basic infrastructure such as electricity.

While the industry was vehemently opposed to the proposed sponsorship, lost in translation was the importance of smart destination marketing to attract growth markets so that we can increase the number of visitors who come to South Africa, increase their spend and create

more jobs supported by tourism – an employer of high ratios of low- and semi-skilled people in peri-urban and rural areas where no other industries operate.

We know that unemployment keeps you up at night, Mr President.

Invisible behind the narrative that tourism is a soft, nice-to-have sector are the almost 1.5 million South Africans employed by tourism and its supporting industries, and 49,000 SMEs which together generate some 8.7% of South Africa’s exports. Tourism is second only to mining as an export sector.

In 2019, PWC conducted an analysis to understand which industries would create the highest multiplier effects if invested into. It examined job and growth multipliers, export potential and sector resilience and volatility. Tourism came out tops.

PWC’s PPIG ‘Towards a Growing Economy’ Report highlights Tourism as the Number One industry with the greatest potential to stimulate inclusive economic growth and employment, creating the greatest multiplier effect.

Indeed, tourism accounts for one in every 10 jobs and has deep tentacles into other parts of the South African economy, supporting a R206,5bn supply chain annually.

If you were serious when you previously acknowledged that the tourism industry had the power to deliver inclusive economic growth, job creation, exports and GDP growth, we would have seen a great deal more decisiveness on your government’s part to create the enabling environment required to help tourism grow the economy and create jobs.

We even created a practical and tactical action plan that would deliver that catalytic and unprecedented growth with timelines – first on our list was “structured engagement” which, had it been implemented, would have likely saved both government and the tourism sector from having had to endure the pain of the Tottenham Hotspur fiasco in the first place.

Mr President, we acknowledge that you have immediate priorities to fix – priorities that will seem far more important than instituting a tourism friendly visa regime, removing licencing red tape or strengthening tourism accountability at a government level.

Many of the obstacles standing in the way of tourism, and cited in our action plan, could be resolved with just a little political will and a serious commitment to working as a joint private-public sector force for tourism. It really is in your hands. And it really is possible.

So if were to add our voice to the calls of other South Africans in the run-up to SONA we would ask the President to acknowledge that tourism is important and that while the government understands it must fix the immediate and urgent basic infrastructure that affects all of us, his government commits to creating that enabling environment that amplifying industries like tourism can grow so that South Africa’s prospects are safeguarded.

And if all that emerges from SONA tonight is a plausible solution to reducing the pain of loadshedding for South Africans, we will still share in the hope that you will fulfil that promise.

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