It has been a difficult start for Derek Hanekom, the former minister of science and technology, with several international challenges – ranging from currency volatility to global macroeconomic stresses – putting the tourism sector under pressure.
Although South Africa has not recorded a single case of Ebola, the local tourist market was affected as some travellers from European countries and East Asia cancelled their plans despite the outbreaks being limited to West Africa. The department still has to quantify the impact the health scare has had on the sector.
The pressure on Hanekom was increased further by new visa regulations that were introduced by the department of home affairs, which increased the overall processing time and directly affected African and Chinese tourists.
But even with these challenges, tourism injected R35.3-billion into the economy from January to June 2013 and directly supported 620 000 jobs in 2012.
In 2013, foreign tourist arrivals to South Africa grew by 4.7% to reach 9.6-million, with most of the tourists coming from Europe but with Asian tourists representing the highest growth.
Despite this encouraging news, the auditor general found some “material misstatements” in the department’s annual report for 2013-2014 and is carrying out investigations into possible irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
There are, however, some factors that make Hanekom’s job manageable and he basked in the glory of seeing several local tourist destinations winning gold at the World Tourism Market awards in London.
Cape Town’s Hotel Verde won for the best city hotel for responsible tourism, the V&A Waterfront scored for best destination for responsible tourism and the South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance triumphed as the best global animal welfare initiative.
Another long-standing challenge in tourism is the issue of transformation, with the ownership of hotels and transport operations still largely in white hands. There is also a need for greater emphasis on developing rural and maritime tourism.
The fact that South Africa does not own cruise ships and depends on foreign-owned vessels that dock at the country’s ports is seen as one of Hanekom’s biggest challenges.
He must also find a way to manage world heritage sites that may be adversely affected by the activities of other departments.
So far, he’s on the right track.