29 Oct 2015 – Tourism Update
While concessions have been made to South Africa’s stringent immigration requirements, it will take time to regain travellers’ trust.
It could take years for South Africa to recover from the damage caused by the immigration regulations, members of the trade have warned. They say that even though the government has announced it will relax the requirements, it will take time to regain travellers’ trust.
Martin Wiest, CEO of Tourvest Destination Management, says it will take at least 18 months for the tourism industry to recover, with very little the industry can do to speed up the process.
Other members of the trade also warn of a slow recovery, with Mmatšatši Ramawela, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa suggesting it could take anything from 12 months to three years and Lee-Anne Bac, Director of Grant Thornton Johannesburg, warning it could take years. Bac says South Africa’s tourism has always been on a growth path, but for the first time in 20 years the country saw a continued decline in tourism numbers. “We are expecting that at the end of this year we will be 500 000 tourists behind due to the visa regulations,” she says.
The key to recovery will be clear communication and collaborative marketing. We need to tell the world that we are fixing our issues and are back in business, says David Frost, CEO of SATSA. He says it will take time for the damage to be repaired but that this can be done through joint initiative between the private and public tourism sectors in South Africa.
Bill Harrop, Owner of Bill Harrop’s original Balloon Safaris, says the industry must work together in a unified manner and invest a larger than usual amount of time and money to enable a clear, simple, unambiguous, well executed response. The quicker this is done, the better chance of reversing the damage sustained in the least possible time. “We cannot change the past. Let us focus on the goal and commit to working together for the future.”
According to Ramawela, it’s great news that the concessions were made one week before the start of WTM. “South Africa is going to WTM with a positive story this year. But, we’ll have to go cap in hand to our partners to say that we’re back in business. We’ll need to ask them to put us back into their brochures, but we need to be aware that other destinations have taken South Africa’s place in the brochures.”
“It will be important for the tourism industry to stem the tide of the losses and then build up the trust of the travellers again. This can take some time,” says Bac, adding that broken trust takes a lot of effort to repair. The most urgent course of action, according to Bac, is to make sure the tourism industry and the Department of Home Affairs are on the same page. “We need to be clear on what the changes are and establish one set of consistent communication,” she says, adding that once that is in place, a lot of time and energy and money will need to be spent to get the right message across.
Michael Tollman, CEO of Cullinan Holdings, agrees that it is important that the South African tourism industry communicates clearly with the world exactly which changes will be implemented and when. Only with clear communication will the industry be able to change the dynamics in the markets that have been affected by the regulations.
According to Tollman, tourism in South Africa was severely affected this year by the Ebola crisis as well as by the visa regulations. “We are now past Ebola and hopefully past visa issues. All depends now on how efficiently we as a tourism industry can communicate with the world and turn around any negative sentiment.”
Ramawela agrees and says it is imperative that the DHA and the tourism industry quickly get together and bring clarity. She explains that although the government has given clear deadlines on most things, there is still some confusion. Firstly, she says, we need clarity as to what ‘strongly advised’ means and which documents will be accepted from travellers from visa-exempt countries. Secondly, more clarity is required around the criteria for the accredited tour companies.
The road to recovery can only start once the changes are effective, says Linda Pampallis, CEO of Thompsons Africa. She says the Department of Home Affairs has told the tourism industry that they will issue an advisory as to when the changes to the regulations will take effect. Until that time, things will continue as before. “We had a blue sky moment, but the gates aren’t open yet. We will need to bide our time until the changes are effective,” she says.
Once the changes are effective, it will be up to the tourism industry to convince affected markets to put South Africa back in their marketing campaigns, says Linda. She adds that a joint effort from the entire industry will be required to talk up South Africa.