26 February 2013

Local government crucial to tourism growth and community development

Local governments must work with public and private stakeholders in the tourism sector to ensure communities derive maximum economic and social benefits.

Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk

Reducing or having no tourism budget can have a negative impact on future economic growth and development in municipalities, as tourism has the potential to create local jobs. – Minister of Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

This was the message from Minister of Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk in his opening address at the Local Government Tourism Conference taking place in Sandton, Johannesburg, on 26 and 27 February 2013.

He told delegates that tourism had directly and indirectly contributed R250-billion to South Africa’s GDP in 2011.

'The benefits of tourism are felt in local communities. It attracts commercial investments beyond the tourism sector, creates employment opportunities, contributes to economic growth, and enhances the image of cities and towns,’ he said.

He cited Oudtshoorn, Grahamstown and Clarens as examples of towns that had invested in niche tourism products. ‘These have had a significant economic and social impact on the lives of the local communities in these towns,’ he said.

For tourism to grow, said Van Schalkwyk, a concerted, well-coordinated approach to managing it is needed, which includes a well-managed approach to visitor servicing.

He called on municipalities to make tourism a priority in their budgets, saying it requires much less investment to create quality jobs in the tourism sector than it does in other economic sectors.

'Many municipalities with some of the best tourism offerings in the country have cut their tourism budgets or have no tourism budget at all. Yet local governments are obligated to deliver the basic infrastructure on which tourism is built. Reducing or having no tourism budget can have a negative impact on future economic growth and development in those municipalities, as tourism has the potential to create local jobs,' he explained.

He added that local governments will find the National Department of Tourism’s Social Responsibility Implementation (SRI) programme a willing partner in making money available for concrete development plans.

He highlighted three examples of successfully implemented SRI projects:

  • The Hector Pieterson Memorial Square in Soweto, which received R16-million-worth of funding in 2002 and attracts 25 000 visitors annually;
  • The Zithabiseni Resort in Mpumalanga, which received funding of R28,5-million for renovations and has generated income of R5,2-million since the project was completed in December 2012; and
  • The Mukumbani Falls Project in Limpopo, which received R7,6-million in funding for the development of two picnic facilities at the Mukumbani waterfalls.

Van Schalkwyk said there is much to celebrate in the achievements to mainstream and integrate tourism into government policy, planning frameworks, and the economic and development agenda.

'For that reason, we've developed the Local Government Tourism Development and Growth Support Programme in partnership with the South African Local Government Association.

'This programme will equip tourism practitioners and policymakers at local government level with much-enhanced tourism skills in key areas,' he said.

He added that the department is committed to working with local government to make tourism an integral part of planning and implementation in the local government sphere.

'We will work with provinces and municipalities to ensure the integration of tourism priorities in provincial growth and development strategies and integrated development plans.'

Van Schalkwyk concluded by pointing out that the implementation of the National Tourism Sector Strategy will require strong partnerships across the public and private sectors, and 'most importantly, appropriate structuring, capacity building, and resourcing in all spheres of government'.