Tourism not a panacea for all the region’s ills

It is an established fact that more and more tourists shy away from centres of violence and unrest and prefer to spend their hard-earned Dollars, Euros and other currencies in places of relative tranquility, political stability and peace.

Prognoses of an ever-increasing share to the GDP and greater employment for the local population leaves many politicians starry-eyed and oblivious of many hard, unpalatable truths.

Tourists are fickle. The flavor of this year may be the pariah of the next.

What is seen as evocative today, may be the clich’ of tomorrow. Tourists are also hard to please and just a few whispers of “word-of-mouth” adverse publicity can have tourists cancelling and leaving faster than most would believe.

For the next few years our region can look forward to a steady rise in tourism, partly out of curiosity, partly because our diverse authorities are represented at the right places at the right time and make the right noises.

It is important to be at, for instance, the Indaba in Durban, at the various European tourism exhibitions, such as the BIT in Milan or the ITB in Berlin or even the WTM in the UK. It keeps the interest alive and increases awareness of one’s country.

Back home, however, authorities should not forget that tourism could be a soap bubble that could burst and government should capitalise on the other industries which make a significant contribution to the annual Gross Domestic Product.

While the European fishing grounds are losing their luster one after the other, our countries that border the oceans should ensure that they optimize the return from this resource.

“Optimise” and not “Maximise” No-one should allow anyone to ruthlessly exploit a resource until near extinction, such as we have seen in the 70s and early eighties along the West Coast of Namibia, for instance.

Our land-locked countries all have considerable mineral resources, such as copper, tin, gold, platinum, etc.

Once again, it is good to invite investors to assist in mining these for the benefit of the people and the country. Ruthless surface stripping and a total ignorance of rehabilitation does not make an attractive proposition ‘ and is short-sighted.

Soon the resource is gone and the country is left with the debris of mining.

Investor incentives must be attractive, because we are, again, competing with many other countries in the world; but the penalties for not adhering to these restrictions, must also be clearly spelled out. Toothless legislation is not worth the paper it is printed on.

All too often so-called “investors” have unashamedly taken unfair advantage and in the end the country is left without resources, without skill transfer and with a hole in the budget. The investor, will, by that time be long gone.

To come back to the beginning: Tourism is good for the region, is good for all of us. It brings in new people, new ideas and contributes to the state coffers.

Fly-by nights are soon sorted out, and a solid industry can be built for now and for tom- orrow.

But it will never be the cure-all, universal remedy and end-all.

There will always be a more attractive destination to the tourist and his or her money.

October 2006
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