Catch a tourist if you can - and then tax him the Mokaba way
PETER Mokaba, the Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, made a speech at the Food and Hotel Africa 1996 trade exhibition last week.
Mr Mokaba is, of course, better known for his rather unorthodox views on agriculture (kill the farmer, kill the boer) and so it was interesting to read what he had to say about the relatively simple matter of attracting tourists to a country with considerably more natural tourist resources than most.
It is possible that the article I read deliberately failed to report some of Mr Mokaba's more brilliant and visionary suggestions, and if that is the case I apologise in advance.
What Mr Mokaba did say though was that tourism is still a remote "foreign concept" for the majority of black
South Africans, many of whom have never been tourists, and that it catered predominantly for the white upper and middle classes.
Mr Mokaba went on to say that 95% of this country's tourism industry was still owned by the white private sector and that a lack of meaningful participation by black entrepreneurs and all South African communities in the tourism industry was just one of several impediments causing the industry to "remain in the doldrums".
Other constraints apparently include inadequate resources, a "myopic" private sector, a lack of infrastructure, high air tariffs, lack of appropriate ground transportation, a bureaucratic marketing arm and . . . oh yes, our crime-ridden image.
About the only people who escape any blame it seems is his own department, who have no doubt been battling valiantly against almost impossible odds.
After all, didn't Mr Mokaba come up with the dazzling suggestion of levying a tax on all departing tourists? What a pity nobody told him that in order to depart you first have to arrive.
IT SEEMS that Mr Mokaba missed a superb opportunity to promote South Africa to exhibitors from the US, Canada, India, Singapore and Europe, preferring instead to concentrate on the social inequalities of tourism.
For example, to say that tourism is a foreign concept to the majority of black South Africans is a pointless statement. If tourism caters for what Mokaba refers to as the white middle and upper class it is because they are the people who have money to spend.
A simple business principle is that you aim goods or services at a target market and to offer Mediterranean cruises or Tyrolean skiing holidays to shack dwellers would obviously be ridiculous; just as ridiculous as blaming the poor performance of our tourism industry on social imbalances.
Similarly, the accusatory comment that 95% of SA's tourism industry is still owned by the white private sector is fatuous.
So what? I am unaware of any laws, other than pure commercial ones, that preclude any person of any colour setting up in the tourism business. Mokaba complains that even the magazines and newspapers aimed at black readers still do not carry advertisements for leisure and holiday facilities.
Again, I fail to understand his point. Surely he isn't suggesting that advertisers are deliberately not using the black media in order to keep the beaches white?
While Mr Mokaba is probably quite correct in his accusation that the marketing arm for SA tourism is bureaucratic and unwieldy, he cannot be serious when he accuses the private sector of being "myopic".
If anything, the tourism industry could be charged with over-enthusiasm. Spurred on by predictions of a tourist boom, many investors must now be wondering whether they haven't over-committed themselves as they twiddle their thumbs waiting for the promised foreign invasion.
LIKE any aimless department of government which has no real idea of what it is supposed to be achieving, Mr Mokaba's ministry has "launched" a White Paper on tourism which identifies the fundamentals for a government-led, private sector-driven, community-based industry.
If you think that sounds like political gobbledegook, you would be quite correct. A rough translation of that statement means that government will tell you what to do, the private sector will be expected to pay for it and the public will have to put up with the consequences.
Mr Mokaba's speech appears to contribute little towards the tourism debate, strewn as it is with "struggle clichés" about white ownership and similar populist platitudes. It is the speech of a man who evidently has neither enthusiasm or empathy for his portfolio. Still, I suppose it could have been worse. He could have become Deputy Minister of Agriculture.