It was suggested in the FM cover story of April 6 that the “rich” had caused the oversupply of beds in wildlife tourism.
Peter Anderson , director of Livingstones Supply Company, a tourism services group had the following to say.
Possibly true; however, among these “rich” are people passionate about conservation and tourism who have invested resources with dreams of uplifting and empowering local communities, establishing rural tourism, protecting biodiversity and living out dreams. Wildlife tourism people are often philanthropic, as conservation and engaging rural communities are part of what wildlife tourism is all about.
In the 1970s there were around 150 wildlife tourism beds in private “big five” protected areas outside the Kruger National Park. I grew up on one of them, Sohebele Safari Lodge . Two others were Thornybush and Mala Mala, a pioneer with 50 years of marketing SA as a safari destination.
Sohebele closed down four months after the 1976 Soweto riots because of the sharp decrease in visitors to SA. Divisive policies and political unrest helped the country top the list as one of the world’s least popular tourism destinations.
One can understand establishments closing down in those times but it is difficult to understand this happening today.
There are now around 700 wildlife tourism lodges providing 14000 beds. Yes, people and companies with money have invested in this sector to cause this “oversupply”, but what have they achieved?
In each lodge you will find a mix of skills — wildlife guides, housekeepers, managers, chefs and more, all having participated in training and skills transfer initiatives. This combination of skills, operating styles and design has won SA some of the highest international awards. We are the world leader in wildlife tourism.
Taking direct jobs, dependants and those earning a living adjoining conservation areas providing produce, services, curios, cultural tourism and second-tier travel services, it is estimated that 400000 people are supported by this sector, though it represents only 4,5% of our 300000 beds.
Should we be blaming those who established this sector or should we be doing something about this? Seventy recognised leisure tourism companies met, through facilitation by the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA), in Johannesburg in June 2011 to better understand the challenges faced. With a large percentage losing money it was resolved that there was indeed a crisis.
Black entrepreneurs are not investing in this sector. Why? It is not profitable, as demonstrated by NEF and IDC feasibility and occupancy studies.
TBCSA delivered a number of resolutions to SA Tourism and the minister, the key message being to implement changes to increase the number of “leisure tourists” to SA. Despite reports of tourist numbers reaching 8,3m in 2011, occupancy in this sector was 29%, its lowest in 35 years.
Some say, “allow a correction to reduce the oversupply”. In a sector which supports 400000 people and delivers a large percentage of our tourism revenue, we could be making a huge mistake by not increasing our efforts to grow these markets. Tourism is one of the biggest potential sustainable job creators and a critical driver of our economy. Marketing the brand of SA should be escalated by government as a priority.
Africa’s biggest tourism exhibition and the world’s largest wildlife tourism expo, Indaba 2012, opens in Durban next week. With wildlife tourism experiencing growth in countries neighbouring SA there has to be more we can do to market ourselves as a safari, rural tourism and leisure destination.
It’s time for SA Tourism to recognise the crisis and engage the sector in a joint effort to increase our leisure tourist numbers.
Anderson is a director of Livingstones Supply Company, a tourism services group