South Africa: Open Letter to the Minister of No Tourism

Dear Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane,

Although I was shocked, I was not surprised with your out-of-touch and oblivious comments made over the weekend during the International Tourism Day celebrations. You unbelievably stated that, “[looking] back at where tourism was two months ago, we have much to celebrate.”Perhaps you could tell us exactly what there is to celebrate? Because from what I have observed, there is precious little.

Your statement that “travellers will prefer to travel to countries that offer greater diversity of attractions so that they don’t have to travel to multiple countries to enjoy different activities”shows a Minister that knows nothing of the intricacies of the tourism sector. Tourists do not make travel decisions on diversity of attractions but on experiences, ease of travel and interaction with the local people.

Take the tourism success of Monaco, one of the smallest countries in the world, with a land space of just over 1.9 km2. The size of Monaco is about half the surface area of the top of Table Mountain and lacks the “diversity of attractions” that you describe. Using the internationally recognised comparative tourism ratio of tourism to population, Monaco achieved 8.9 tourists per resident in 2018, ranking it seventh in the world and first in Europe. South Africa, with our tourism diversity achieved 2.1 tourists per resident in the same year. In fact, we feature only fifth in Africa with Botswana (also with limited tourism attractions) leading the continent with a rating of 4.0.

So Minister, your argument falls flat. And even if you were correct, surely you, particularly as Tourism Minister, should be encouraging repeat visits to South Africa by the same tourists for the very reason that we have such a diversity of tourism attractions.

Unfortunately, Minister, you and your fellow Cabinet members have failed dismally in attracting these tourists. Not just because of your nonsensical lockdown regulations which destroyed countless small businesses and industries in the tourism sector, but also due your failures in government.

Your statement that South Africa “is arguably one of the safest tourist destinations in the world” in reference to Covid-19 may hold some truth, the reality is that the same cannot be said about South Africa as a safe destination from a variety of other perspectives. An official Parliamentary Content Advisory Note dated 27 May 2020 echo this by stating that, “[before] Covid-19, the brand reputation for South Africa had already suffered due to perceptions caused by negative crime reports, xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals, tourist animal interactions, canned hunting, government policy of expropriation of land without compensation, and related brand killers and disablers.”

Welcoming back international travellers will therefore be a long and difficult process for our tourism sector. Especially with the introduction of irrational tourism red-list.

In a briefing last week, the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, stated that government “will use its own level of coronavirus risk to determine countries considered high, medium or low risk”. I have carefully studied the red-listed countries and using the latest official statistics I cannot see what criteria was used to red-list countries.

Minister Pandor stated that those countries with “significantly higher levels of infection spread and deaths than South Africa will be rated as high risk” – using new cases statistics as a criteria I am baffled as to how Russia, the United Kingdom and Mexico have been red-listed, yet Spain with more new cases than any of those countries does not appear on the list. If total Covid-19 deaths to date were to be used as a criteria, then it makes no sense that Italy is not on the list when better performing countries such as Peru and France are on the red-list.

It is clear that your government has created clandestine lockdown sub-levels within level 1; how else does one explain that leisure travellers from our biggest markets will not be permitted to enter our borders. Why are only high-skill individuals, investors, sports people and diplomats permitted entrance? Are they magically immune to Covid-19 and tourists not? At what stage will we then move onto the next sub-level and what criteria will be used to do so?

The latest regulations continue your government’s trend throughout lockdown – that of an arrogant and destructive authoritarian government that cares nothing for its people and the economy.