The main focus of the Department of Tourism during the current financial year will be on the implementation of the Tourism Sector Recovery Plan, Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said during her department’s budget vote presentation to Parliament on Tuesday.
The plan, which was developed with input from the private sector, has three main strategic themes, namely protecting and rejuvenating supply, reigniting demand and strengthening long-term sustainability.
The total infrastructure commitment is just under R700-million over a five-year period. To date, an amount of R270-million of the funds has been made available to the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) which serves as the implementing agent for the department’s infrastructure programme. A further R222-million has been budgeted for this financial year.
"The devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in the tourism sector and the wider economy, has brought into sharp focus the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality," said Kubayi-Ngubane.
"The tourism sector is one of the critical intervention areas that have been identified in the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan as a key driver of the economic recovery in the country."
Since the start of Covid-19 lockdowns, the tourism sector has been characterised by stops and starts in accordance with the waves of the pandemic.
"However, despite all the difficulties, the recovery has been on an upward trajectory. The department's programmes and efforts in this financial year are aimed at sustaining this trajectory," said Kubayi-Ngubane.
"Furthermore, benefits of the partnership with the industry were that we were able to make our case for the early reopening of the industry, from interprovincial travel, attractions and tours, accommodation, restaurants, casinos, business events to international travel, among others."
It was made possible through putting industry protocols in place.
The minister told Parliament she is concerned about the slow progress with transformation in the tourism sector. In order to accelerate transformation, the Tourism Transformation Fund will be restructured to be more accessible to entrepreneurs.
Furthermore, the R1.2-billion Tourism Equity Fund is designed to provide a combination of debt finance and grant funding for enterprises with 51% black ownership. The processing of applications has, however, been interdicted by the court following an application against the fund by AfriForum and Solidarity. The department is still looking into its next step in this regard. Empowering women also forms part of the Tourism Recovery Plan.
As for the events industry, the SA National Convention Bureau invested R23-million in bid submissions to attract business events linked with the national government’s development priorities. "We will intensify our cooperation efforts with neighbouring countries in the SADC region and work towards a regional value proposition and the implementation of the SADC Tourism Programme," said the minister.
Her department is also looking at how SA’s visa system can be reformed to include e-visas.
Deputy Minister of Tourism Fish Mahlalela told Parliament that the main objective of the recovery plan is to ultimately resume and "catapult" tourism operations to the pre-Covid-19 level in an inherently safe way. "As we rethink the grading regime for our products and services, we cannot take a break from assuring the quality of our current offering, particularly for new and emerging entrants," said Mahlalela.
"To this end, SA Tourism is piloting a Basic Quality Verification Programme targeting home-stays. This will not only ensure quality assured products for new entrants but also create job opportunities for quality assurers."
The department will also continue skills development programmes for the youth, including in food safety quality assurance, training of chefs, wine-service training and hospitality training.
"As we reopen our sector anew, we must do that in a responsible way, fully committed to the sustainability pillars of people, planet and prosperity," he said.
"By this we mean that our investments and the way we do business must be socially inclusive, the ecological footprint, minimum whilst the economic spinoffs are beneficial to communities and to the greater national good."
He too raised the issue of transformation in the sector.
"The road to recovery will have to be transformative because we can’t solve problems the same way they were created. We have to decisively change the face of our tourism industry and not simply return the tourism sector to where it was before the pandemic," he said.