#FeesMustFall-The Negative Image Impact on Tourism in South Africa
Tourism is an image sensitive industry where perceptions are powerful and have an impact on purchasing behaviour. Tourists will shun destinations where there are low levels of personal safety and security. South Africa’s competitiveness as a tourism destination has been challenged by several challenges that include lack of visa facilitation, lack of aviation access and low levels of safety and security.
The Department of Tourism in its National Tourism Sector Strategy (NTSS) indicated the vision that South Africa must be in the top 20 destinations in the world by the year 2020. The latest World Economic Forum (WEF) Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index places South Africa at number 48. Tourism in South Africa is the engine for growth for the South Africa hence tourism is now regarded as the ‘’new gold’’ as it attracts more foreign exchange than gold mining.
Tourism needs more support so that it can continue to attain double digit growth whilst other sectors such as mining, agriculture and manufacturing continue in their consistency in shedding jobs, leading to rampant poverty which is a result of unemployment.
The July tourists arrivals indicate that tourism has grown by more than 12.2% when compared to July 2015, which means that there was an increase of 131 002 tourists. This is remarkable considering the ‘’special period’’ that South Africa is experiencing where there is a projected 0% economic growth, a stubborn 27% unemployment rate, and a currency crisis that has been leading to inflationary pressures that has led to interest rates being increased by the Reserve Bank.
Business confidence is at a 20 year low whilst big business in South Africa is on an investment ‘toyi-toyi’ refusing to invest in the economy, whilst they sit on record amounts of cash in bank accounts more than R430 billion. As an economy with deep structural dependence on extraction industries, this means that the end of the commodity boom will wreck the economic prospects of the economy.
The truth is that when mining sneezes, the economy catches a flu, our economy is in ICU, and this is worse than flu. Tourism, in the services sector of the economy remains the industry that can change our economic fortunes if more is done to ensure that tourism becomes the priority sector to drive the economy. This is further reflected in that foreign direct investment (FDI) have decreased by more than 70% to South Africa, further fuelled by the political instability characterising the succession debate and the open ended political contestations that characterise the status of the state.
The welfare state that South Africa has created is best reflected in the document Economic Trends: Key trends in the South African Economy produced by the IDC which noted that ‘’gross loan debt of government represents 50% of GDP in the final quarter of 2015 or R2 trillion in nominal terms’’. The low levels of domestic savings as a percentage of GDP, mean that the country depends on foreign sources of finance, which has meant that the rating agencies have become the defacto government.
The rating agencies have indicated that they might downgrade South Africa to junk status, which would increase the borrowing costs of government and be worse than apartheid sanctions. I think by now you understand that the ‘’special period’’ that South Africa is facing is a confluence of tragedies upon tragedies that means we are unable to bring dignity to the majority of citizens that are too familiar to the indignity of poverty, unemployment and inequality. As a former student leader I understand the struggle that students experience when accessing the ivory towers of Higher Education, which remains expensive.
Student debt extension is already one of the most profitable sectors for investment in the USA. The difference between #FeesMustFall and #FeesMustFallReload is that the latter has been characterised by widespread violence. The #FeesMustFallReload has been characterised by both a rural and urban higher education revolt, which means that the more than 20 higher education institutions are facing closure from violence and the destruction of property. The rampant violence that has characterised the #FeesMustFallReload can decrease inbound tourism arrivals in the country as images of violence would deter tourists.
Countries that take tourism seriously understand that perception is more important that facts. The violence that has characterised the student protests will deter tourists from visiting South Africa and limit the developmental potential as tourism has continues to be the light in these times of doom and gloom. The students must be engaged and the law enforcement agencies must also do their job without fear and favour. Tourism might be the biggest loser from the students protest as cancellation will be order of the day. I hope that #FeesMustFall movement can also chant #PassMustRise, maybe then, the conversation can be meaningful.
Mr. Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at the Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his/her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Kaya FM.