Perhaps one of the braver initiatives the organisers at Indaba undertake annually is the Ministerial Media Talk in which the Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom is pretty much roasted live on stage by charismatic CNN anchor Richard Quest.
Apart from the minister, the panel included Deputy Minister of Tourism, Tokozile Xasa, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa Mmatšatši Ramawela, and Gillian Saunders of Grant Thornton.
Open skies, interdepartmental collaboration and trust between government and industry were some of the topics discussed.
In his trademark provocative style, Quest challenged the panel on the veracity of tourism growth figures for South Africa. He suggested that the quoted figure of 15 percent was misleading as it was based on growth off a low base after South Africa had “shot itself in the foot,” in relation to the visa and birth certificate regulations.
Minister Hanekom attempted to downplay the impact of the regulations saying that the effect of the Ebola outbreak on tourist arrivals could not be underestimated.
Taking a two-year view, arrivals growth was three percent, according to Grant Thornton’s Gillian Saunders, which is below the global average of four percent.
She noted, however, that the industry was significantly rescued by the depreciation of the rand despite the fact that studies could not find a direct correlation between currency depreciation and tourist arrivals.
Quest also had a crack at the embattled national carrier South African Airways (SAA) saying he knew “of no other carrier in the world that has had seven CEOs in four years”. He also said that SAA had an ageing fleet and wasn’t following the transformative steps of the US’ carriers. He also pointed out with record low fuel prices, it was one of the very few airlines in the world that continued to lose money.
“You must concede that SAA has become a political football and this has to stop,” he said.
Though they differed on a number of issues, panel members seemed to agree on the relevance and importance of a national carrier. They also agreed that trust between government and the private sector was essential to the growth and development of the tourism industry.
The panel addressed the strategic economic importance of tourism and the threats and opportunities associated with it, such as job creation, foreign direct spend and social development.
A key part of the discussion was the need for collaboration and engagement by other government departments with the National Department of Tourism when taking decisions on issues that have far reaching consequences. This was highlighted by the recent announcement of the South African Minister of Sport revoking the privilege of four of South Africa’s biggest sporting associations to host future events because of their failure to reach their agreed upon transformation numbers.
The Minister acknowledged that consultation is needed in such instances in order to balance doing the right thing for the country, without negatively affecting tourism. “It is our job to promote tourism. So we will engage with the Sports minister,” the minister said.
The panel agreed that there is an opportunity to learn best practices from the continent and the world, a sentiment especially emphasised by Ramawela.