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France can teach SA a thing or two about tourism

Jul 15 2016 07:17
Unathi Sownabile Henama

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma arrived in France last Sunday on a two-day state visit - a day after France hosted the closing function and the final of the Euro 2016, which was eventually won by Portugal. France has been in a state of emergency ever since the 2015 terrorist attacks that rocked the nation.

South Africa is showing increasing strain in managing domestic security as the country experiences perennial service delivery protests. Paris is the number one tourist destination in the world, offering a plethora of attractions and known for its service excellence.

France can teach South Africa many lessons, especially how it uses tourism as the number one sector to drive its economy. Tourism produces a multitude of labour intensive jobs and acts as a catalyst for other industries such as agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

Paris’ position as an aviation hub has been challenged by the emergence of Gulf destinations such as Doha and Dubai. However, the terrorist attacks in Paris led to the state investing more in safety and security in order to combat the treat of terror. Tourism requires peace as a prerequisite for growth, and France sought to protect its tourism industry by increasing safety and security. Tourism remained resilient in France, and as the news of counter terrorism filtered out to the world it showed that the country was serious about safety and security, and that France was 'Open for Business'.

Zuma arrived in France in the aftermath of Brexit, with Paris likely to benefit from capital flight from the UK due to uncertainty. The rand did lose some value in the immediate aftermath of the UK's decision to leave the European Union, and the South African economy is likely to enter a recession as growth forecasts by the International Monetary Fund are projected to be around 0.1% in 2016 - too low to create the jobs necessary to absorb the more than 27% unemployment rate.

Zuma sought to ensure that his delegation concluded the necessary agreements to ensure that foreign direct investment which will create jobs will come from the French to South Africa. Big business in South Africa has taken a conscious decision not to invest in the country as the majority of JSE-listed companies sit on record amounts of cash in the banks, instead of investing in the economy.

Tourism's tragedy is that most of it occurs within the developed countries in the West, thereby limiting its developmental potential. African tourism still receives less than 10% of international tourism receipts, which presents immense opportunities for growing the market there.

The tourism market for Africa in general and South Africa in particular will grow only if African governments get their houses in order by giving the industry the political support to succeed - inasmuch as tourism is private sector driven, the public sector plays an important supportive role.

The French rugby league has been an importer of elite rugby talent from South Africa for years, just like India is a net importer of the best cricket talent from South Africa. South African Tourism once used Jonty Rhodes as the brand ambassador in cricket-mad country India. South African Tourism must consider using the many South African players as brand ambassadors to increase the number of French tourists that come to South Africa.

According to Statistics South Africa’s tourism and migration figures for December 2015, France produced 4.6% (28 691) of total inbound international tourists to South Africa, after the United Kingdom (23.3%), the US (12.2%), Germany (11.7%), the Netherlands (5.5%), and Australia (5.1%).

South Africa must try to attract more French tourists to ensure that tourism drives economic growth, so that the country can escape the dreaded downgrade by rating agencies. The greatest challenge to national economies is how they will respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will replace humans with robots. Once again, tourism will be a mitigating factor as tourism growth automatically produces labour intensive jobs because it’s essentially a service that is simultaneously produced and consumed.

The year 2016 will go down as the year that tourism saved the national economy. Long live tourism!

* Unathi Sownabile Henama teaches tourism at Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity. Opinions expressed are his own.


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