How the tourism industry responds and pursues sustainable tourism practices continues to be a hot debate, but even more so at this year’s Africa’s Travel Indaba.
Specific focus was placed on the lessons learnt from the water crisis that has engulfed tourism hot spot Cape Town.
Indaba’s ‘Responsible Tourism’ panel, moderated by SA Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona, also attempted to address questions raised around issues of inclusivity in the industry from previously disenfranchised sectors of society.
“If you’re excluded, you destroy, if you’re included, you protect,” remarked Ntshona at the discussion.
“Inclusivity should also not come at the cost of others.”
Investment in township tourism is one of the ways this inclusivity is being promoted, as well as through the Hidden Gems programme where small businesses are hosted by SA Tourism at Indaba. This year 135 of these businesses attended the Indaba through the programme, 50% more than last year.
However, Morongoe Ramphele, deputy director general of Tourism Support Services Events at the Department of Tourism, noted that one of the issues facing small businesses in places like townships is expansion, where space can easily run out without proper investment in the area’s infrastructure.
“Sometimes tourism is being looked at as a luxury, and we need to change that mindset,” says Ramphele.
Millenial travellers were also touted as being at the forefront of sustainable tourism, where the demand is growing for ‘authentic’ experiences embedded in communities rather than a polished pre-packaged tour.
“New tourists are looking for what makes people tick, its about the five senses and not just an attraction,” says Sadia Nanabhay, an expert in sustainable tourism that has been working with businesses and tourism agencies across the country to implement best practices.
Effect of climate change on tourism
The main topic of discussion surrounded the Cape Town water crisis and how the industry can change the behaviour of tourists when it comes to resource use.
Wesgro’s chief marketing officer Judy Lain addressed the debate focused on whether to use the carrot or the stick when having to persuade tourists to become involved in solutions like sticking to water restrictions or reducing their plastic waste.
“Instead of being seen as a victim, take ownership of the crisis and give tourists a choice by communicating to people that they can be part of the solution,” says Lain.
It was also noted that the water crisis isn’t only a Cape Town issue, but a national and global issue as climate change wreaks havoc on many industries. Sharing best practices will benefit everyone, and to this end Lain explained that Wesgro and SA tourism is currently writing a Cape Town case study for the World Tourism organisation so that other places facing the same pressures can use the same measurements.
“Climate change is a global problem, and people need to understand it,” says Lain.
SA Tourism’s stance on animal welfare questioned
Fair Trade Tourism’s (FTT) managing director Jane Edge fielded questions surrounding ethical business practices, as well as animal welfare in the tourism industry.
FTT certifies tourism businesses that follow fair labour practices, green initiatives and ethical treatment of animals that promote responsible tourism to travellers.
Beyond the certification, FTT also has a membership programme for small businesses to help get them certified and assist with market access on digital platforms. They also offer training to businesses owners around sustainable tourism practices and lobby for policies that promote it.
According to FTT, 71% of tourists want to buy holidays from companies that care for animals, but every year between 2 and 4 million tourists unknowingly support attractions that do not benefit animal welfare and conservation. Because of the lack of consensus on the proper categorisation of these centres, there’s urgent need for regulation in the sector.
FTT is currently developing guidelines specifically around captive wildlife tourism, but have delayed releasing them as the Southern Africa Tourism Association (SATSA) is also developing guidelines, and FTT wants to prevent confusion in the tourism industry.
Once they are released, it will be widely distributed and available on their website for responsible travellers, the organisation has confirmed.
The sore point of canned lion hunting and the role cub petting plays in the tourism industry was highlighted at Indaba after animal rights group Blood Lions, known for their lobbying against these practices, almost lost their exhibition space after a spat with the event’s signage agents Synergy Business Events.
‘South African Tourism cited that the signage was found to be a ‘fire hazard’.
Blood Lions producer Pippa Hankinson however claims that they were initially told that there were ‘complaints’ about their stand being ‘guerilla marketing’ and that the trailer company was told on Monday 7 May that they “needed to remove the billboard in an hour’s time or the police would remove it” .
SA Tourism posits that it was purely a safety issue and that the trailer was blocking an emergency exit that was on the submitted safety plans for the event. They also claim the proper application for the trailer wasn’t submitted and that it fell outside of the allotted specifications, but Blood Lions disputes this, saying that they submitted all the necessary paperwork beforehand.
In the end a compromise was reached and the trailer was placed a bit further away from the original spot, which Hankinson says is ‘more hidden’ from the Indaba attendees.
In terms of SA Tourism’s stance on captive animals used for tourism, Ntshona pointed towards demand.
“As long as there’s a demand for it, it will exist, which is why information needs to be transferred to travellers. Kill demand, and there will be no supply.”
New investment announced in the tech sector
Continuing in the spirit of responsible tourism and inclusivity, an announcement was made by Amadeus IT Group, who services South African Airways’ whole IT infrastructure, that they will be channelling investment into South Africa’s tourism sector through Thebe Tourism and the Department of Trade and Industry.
The reinvestment has been earmarked to develop the technology sector of the industry and boost market access for small businesses.
“We compete with the rest of the world for tourists, and we need to use tech as an enabler that locals can be a part of,” says Ntshona.
This includes building a tourism information system portal and app for tourists that map SA’s products and collects data on tourist behaviour which will be made available to the industry through a data hub. The funds will also be used to create a universal booking system for small businesses that will boost access to markets, as well as a business management app that streamlines administration.
A training academy will also be established with a moving, digital campus that will travel to places where a need for training in the sector has been identified. It will have an online curriculum with special focus on empowering youth and women.
Svend Leirvaag, vice president of industry affairs at Amadeus, noted these initiatives are about building on what is already being done in the sector and adding to it instead of replacing it.