The Tourism Minister should help to open up tourism, not decimate it!
Open Letter to the Minister of Tourism, Lindiwe Sisulu
In your response to the tourism budget debate recently, you accused opposition members of parliament (MPs) of showing a lack of patriotism and empathy for the people of South Africa, denunciating us as being unconcerned with tourism. Unbelievably, you specifically stated that you expected “unqualified support!” This is as crazy as believing that stilettos may be worn with military uniforms!
Minister, the reality is that being patriotic does not mean blindly agreeing and endorsing the ANC, as you seem to believe. Being patriotic is caring deeply for the fortunes of South Africa and its people. When the ANC meets these criteria, I will be the first to agree with your party. When it comes to tourism, your government has actually done the opposite of being patriotic.
A caring and patriotic government would not have allowed the tourism sector to destroy a minimum of 470 000 jobs. These job losses were directly caused due to your government’s illogical job-destroying lockdown restrictions. Thanks to this government’s unscientific and job-killing regulations only 37% of employees within this sector were receiving 100% of their salaries in February 2022!
You accused opposition MPs of not being on the ground and not understanding tourism. Well, minister, where have you been all along? Since the beginning of the lockdown, I have been doing what I can to assist people within the tourism sector. In this year alone I have personally visited tourism sites in various cities such as Tshwane, Johannesburg, George, Mossel Bay and Cape Town, I have undertaken the full Otter trail and even visited small dorpies like Melkhoutfontein and Stillbaai. What have you done this year, minister?
I have seen with my own eyes how there are many tourism sub-sectors which by their very nature and design already meet covid regulations, these include self-catering remote accommodation, adventure tourism which takes place in natural remote settings and activities such as hiking, rock climbing and safaris. Despite the DA’s pleading since 2020 with your government to amend the state of disaster regulations in such instances, your department and your government chose to sit on their hands doing nothing as hundreds of thousands, and millions by extension lost their jobs.
The Covid regulations were ridiculously written ensuring that tourism regressed even further. As an example; in the case when business travel was permitted to operate again in 2020, business people had no accommodation available to them during their business trips due to the same regulations which disallowed the operating of accommodation establishments. We queried why only business travel could commence and not leisure travel. The regulations had no basis in science – unless you believe that at the time business travellers were somehow immune to the virus and leisure travellers weren’t!
The inconsistency of government and its lack of forward planning was shameful. The government’s so-called “tourism recovery plan,” drawn up in May 2020, was designed in isolation without taking into account the government’s own various lockdown levels. It arbitrarily foresaw the revival of tourism within 12 months, thus ignoring the realities on the ground. So, while the department of tourism spoke a lot, it did nothing while tourism was being decimated day by day.
As we watched your counterparts in various countries doing everything they could to re-open tourism as quickly as possible, your government did the very opposite and exacerbated an already horrendous situation by ensuring that tourism didn’t open up. In 2020 alone, the tourism sector lost R164-billion in spending by visitors.
Policy uncertainty and contradiction ensured that, for example, one of our largest markets, the United Kingdom, kept us on their red list for an incredible 10 months, costing our economy around R7,9 billion in 2021 alone! In reality, the reason why we were on so many red lists was because that despite the gradual relaxation of lockdown restrictions, there was no guarantee that this government wouldn’t simply re-impose the restrictions and leave tourists stranded. In fact, this is exactly what happened!
Your government still doesn’t understand that it is the private sector that is actually building tourism and bringing visitors to South Africa. This is happening while your government tinkers on the edges by, for example, providing courses that offer no real qualification and even when they do, thanks to this government’s ideological straight-jacket regulations, graduates are unable to find employment. Meanwhile, the private sector is already bringing in thousands of visitors to conferences, exhibitions, meetings and holidays.
You spoke proudly of the many achievements that your department had achieved. Unfortunately, we do not need the kind of achievements you had dished up. An example of your “great achievements” is the fact that the Auditor General found that social security grant beneficiaries, UIF beneficiaries, persons with incorrect or invalid ID numbers, people employed by the state and, wait for it; dead people, received Tourist Guide Relief funds. Over R13-million later and not a cent has been recouped and no one has been brought to book!
Your government has been doing the wrong things all along. Tourism is a “quick win” that your government should be focusing on to grow the economy. This requires political will on the part of the ANC to address the anti-tourism challenges such as crime and xenophobic tensions which keep visitors away.
Government should instead focus on ensuring that our tourism sites and attractions are well maintained, clean, safe, accessible and well marketed. It should stop trying to do everything badly and rather do a few things well. In doing this it will make our tenacious tourism sector flourish, even more, contributing to growing our economy and creating jobs. This should be your focus.
Manny de Freitas MP
Shadow Minister of Tourism