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With the Democratic Alliance (DA) now controlling the cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town (and virtually the whole of the Western Cape), they are in a position to dramatically change the tourism landscape.  Municipalities have a critical role to play in tourism, which is part of their constitutional responsibility.
So I put the question, “What can tourism in Johannesburg, Pretoria & Port Elizabeth expect under the DA?” to James Vos, the DA’s spokesperson for and shadow minister of tourism. 
James Vos

He has made a presentation to Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (shown below) which does provide a guide to the way the DA will operate.  No similar documents have been presented to Johannesburg and Pretoria but, he says, “I'm involved through the party's governance unit undertaking capacity building sessions with our new councils to train them in DA policies and procedures, and how to govern effectively.  

"I will unpack the policies clarifying the important role of municipalities in when it comes to tourism.  This will include aspects relating to the establishment of destination marketing organisations, the functionality of visitor information centres to promote towns and their unique offerings, programs aimed at product development and the revivement of stagnant tourism infrastructure and products.  

"Cross cutting departments will be held accountable to ensure safety, cleanliness and improved levels of service delivery to ensure that municipal jurisdictions remain attractive destinations for travel and trade." 

The DA used their successes in Cape Town and the Western Cape to gain votes in the rest of SA during the recent local government elections, but can they really take credit for any successes in tourism? 

“On 25 October 2007, the National Assembly of South Africa agreed to a motion, noting that Cape Town was ranked the best city out of the country’s 283 municipalities.  The House further noted that the city won this award because of the way in which the municipality dealt with poverty, the level of access to basic services, its economic activity and infrastructure and because its citizens are well qualified. 

"The House recalled that in July [2006] Cape Town was ranked by USA’s Travel & Leisure magazine as the number one city in Africa & the Middle East and claimed tenth spot in the “best city in the world” category.  The National Assembly congratulates both the city administration and the residents of Cape Town on making it a world class city and a top tourist destination." – Baleka Mbete, speaker of Parliament.

That was long before any impact of a DA-controlled City or Province became evident.  Cape Town has always been a different kettle of fish to other metros in SA and organisations like the Cape Town PartnershipSee also: Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana: Making Cape Town even more captivating, more inclusive and the city improvement districts (CIDs) played key roles in the city's revitalisation and desirability.

So the first lesson James Vos, the DA's shadow minister of tourism, needs to learn is that they cannot replicate Cape Town's successes in other metros, because the conditions are so very different.  Cape Town’s success is due to its setting, its tourism industry and the people of Cape Town.

The second lesson is how unimportant politicians and political parties are when it comes to growing tourism, although they can be exceedingly successful at destroying tourism.  One doesn't have to explain the visa story.  Cape Town has a membership-based tourism organisation which has been going for more than 40 years!   The success of this organisation has little to do with politicians and politics, which have always been tourism’s greatest threat.  The success of tourism lies in creating the right kind of space and support where the private sector takes the reins and thrives.  There is no room for political agendas.

I asked James Vos for his CV and what qualifies him to be a shadow tourism minister.

While at school, he became involved with Cape Town’s Junior City Council and was elected mayor of that council.  He joined the youth wing of the Democratic Alliance’s predecessor party and was elected national youth leader.

He studied law at the University of Stellenbosch and was involved in student politics.  When he couldn’t afford tuition fees to complete his degree, he started working for LegalWise and completed his degree through UNISA.

He was elected as a ward councillor in the old city of Cape Town at the age of 20 in 2000.  He helped draft the rules of order for the new Unicity as chair of the Rules Portfolio Committee.

He also served as chair of the Health Portfolio Committee (where he drove Cape Town’s air pollution legislation – a first in SA – and was involved in the rollout of substance abuse rehabilitation programmes, reversing the policy which denied Council's responsibility for addressing the substance abuse problem).  He subsequently served on the Tourism Portfolio Committee (“to give me wider experience”), and become an Alderman in 2011.  I spoke to his DA colleagues and he was a very highly regarded as a councillor.  Reviewing his decisions/actions at the time, one can only applaud them even when they were not widely supported by his colleagues.

In 2014 he was elected to Parliament, becoming the shadow minister of tourism and serves on the National Assembly's Tourism Portfolio Committee.  He is also the Constituency Contact for the DA in Witzenberg, which has just become a DA municipality.

By now, I realised that I was dealing with a “professional politician,” something completely new to me.  I got to know the workings of the old Cape Town City Council exceptionally well during the last quarter of the 20th century when almost every politician had some business or professional track record to prepare themselves for the political role they played (and were paid peanuts for).  Well, those days are gone – for better or worse.

The introduction of party politics at municipal level has also muddied the playing field, because politicians have to toe a party line, even when common sense and conscience suggests a better route.  Do we see a new kind of state capture – where democracy has been hijacked by party politics and the gravy train of highly-paid, ill-equipped politicians who are rarely accountable?  Do we expect too much of them?

Trying another tack, I asked what his actual achievements since becoming the DA’s shadow minister of tourism are.  He sent back several opinion pieces and statements he had issued!

And here we have the real nub… politicians who are not rooted in the real world of business have the belief that their pronouncements carry value.

I challenged James on this when we met and started discovering some very real and noteworthy achievements, but it was like drawing blood from a stone.  He is a doer… but for some inexplicable reason he isn’t using them as a catalyst to do more.   CapeInfo will publish stories on these in due course.  

Yet again he asked that he asked that I publish the following to illustrate his achievements: "Focusing on his work in Parliament, I tabled several motions lobbying for the construction of dedicated cruise terminal infrastructure in Cape Town; I am currently engaged with submitting proposals for the implementation of electronic visas as a means to streamline tourist facilitation to our country; I tabled proposals for the rationalization of international country offices to ensure efficacy and market share;  I introduced suggestions to deal with affordability and limited geographic spread of domestic tourism." 

Motions are only a politician’s view of achievements; they don’t count anywhere else as achievements until they become fact.  I remember calls for a cruise liner terminal as far back as my memory goes.  It is nothing new and when it does happen, it won't be because a politician proposed it but rather because the demand and feasibility make it desirable.

So what can the new DA municipalities expect?

The DA’s 5-point plan for Port Elizabeth, which James Vos has already presented there, is:

  • A dedicated tourism and events directorate will ensure that there is a focused approach to policy creation and implementation that ensures proper planning and consistency.
  • A dedicated budget with a committed team that will ensure proper planning and monthly event schedules.
  • This directorate will establish a business tourism unit to ensure that we attract more conferences and conventions to NMB
(Ed: It should be noted that Cape Town is phasing out its dedicated Tourism & Events Directorate.)

  • Municipal owned tourism products in NMB have been neglected and this has undermined our tourism value proposition.
  • The DA will ensure that the quality of all municipal tourism products is evaluated.
  • The DA will form public-private partnerships to revive our stagnant and deteriorating municipal resorts and other assets such as Bayworld, the Red Location Museum and various other heritage sites.
  • Reviving our existing tourism products will ensure that we can offer affordable family fun holidays that will boost domestic tourism and revenue into the Metro.
  • The DA will introduce a professional and dedicated DMO that will market NMB to the country and the world.
  • A dedicated DMO that is well resourced and incentivized to deliver results will boost tourism arrivals in NMB.
  • NMB will have one clear message that will become our unique selling point to tourists.
  • This DMO will work with regional and provincial partners to ensure that our offer includes a wide range of products.
(Ed: There is already a DMO, see www.nmbt.co.za, a very impressive website, so this is not new but maybe it’s not effective because of political agendas and for the reasons below.)

  • A DA led government will engage with local, national and international tour operators on a regular basis – building strong relationship with industry is key to tourism success.
  • We will work closely with the PE airport and airlines to ensure more flights to NMB resulting in more visitors
  • We will encourage local tourism stakeholders to buy in to our vision of tourism in NMB and invite them to invest in our marketing efforts so that we speak with one, positive voice about tourism in NMB.
  • We will work with government to ensure that we establish a dedicated cruise liner terminal. This will boost the local and regional economy and create jobs in the following ways:
    • Spending by cruise passengers and crew;
    • Shoreside staffing by cruise lines for their headquarters, marketing & tour operations;
    • Expenditures by the cruise lines for goods & services necessary for cruise operations;
    • Spending by the cruise lines for port services; and
    • Expenditures by the cruise lines for maintenance.

(Ed: Has a feasibility study and business case been prepared, or is this just a politician’s “good idea”?  The content above is identical to what James promotes in Cape Town.)

  • We cannot build a thriving tourism economy without the buy-in of all residents. Every resident in NMB is a tourism ambassador.
  • A DA led government will embark on the ‘BELIEVE #NMB’ campaign to create awareness of, and pride in our City.
  • This campaign will aim to educate all our residents about the importance of tourism and building a positive brand for NMB

So the DA plans to perpetuate what has been a long-time CapeInfo gripe – diluting valuable established brands by using meaningless municipal brands.

I asked James, “Is the destination NMB or Port Elizabeth?  Which will be marketed?  Will the name of the DMO be in synch with the city or will it market the municipality?  Is there an airport or post office named NMB?  Is NMB a place on maps?”

He answered:  “Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch all make up the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality. The name Nelson Mandela Bay crept into the Metro's marketing in the early to mid-2000s.  Port Elizabeth is one part of a broader Metro made up of the two other towns.  The destination that is promoted is Nelson Mandela Bay.  The DMO is called Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism and it markets the municipality/metro as a destination.”

"This clearly presents a challenge to tourists who see the brand Nelson Mandela Bay but can't find it on a map." – James Vos

He went on to say, “There is no airport or post office or any other landmark named Nelson Mandela Bay.  There is no Nelson Mandela Bay on maps.  This clearly presents a challenge to tourists who see the brand Nelson Mandela Bay but can't find it on a map. This is what we have inherited, it is not new.  Do you have any thoughts and views on this?”

So what we do have is some very muddy thinking and a lack of business & marketing leadership! 

I challenged James quoting from my 2010 interview with Alan Winde:

Alan is quite clear on this – ‘municipalities must fund local tourism efforts, and then the municipalities must be invisible in destination marketing.  I don’t want to see the municipality’s name when I should be seeing the destination’s name.” 

So what are the DA’s policies for tourism?  James pointed me to the DA’s website where I found the following:

The DA believes that South Africa’s attractiveness as a tourism destination, the competitiveness of our tourism industry and its potential as a vehicle for reconciliation can be boosted by:

  • Establishing a macro-economic environment that is conducive to investment and growth;
  • Encouraging greater involvement by entrepreneurs and prioritising tourism in support programmes for small business development;
  • Supporting the tourism industry with research and information that can help them tailor their products and services to market demands;
  • Putting in place the necessary transport and other infrastructure to connect visitors to tourism sites;
  • Clarifying the roles of tourism industry stakeholders and maintaining platforms for constructive interaction; and
  • Promoting tourism as a career choice and facilitating skills development to ensure that the industry has access to the human resources it needs to succeed.

So I asked where I could see:

  1. The DA’s research and information that helps the tourism industry tailor its products and services to market demands?
  2. The DA’s clarification of the roles of tourism industry stakeholders?

“This was written, and was supported by business, long before the DA came to power in most major metros.  I'm of the view that we should amend this policy to provide more action steps and what to expect under either a DA controlled municipal, provincial and national government. If you have any ideas, please feel free to share,” he replied.

When the DA won the Western Cape, it was not fully ready to govern.  Helen Zille had told her team to focus on winning rather than business plans to govern.See also: Tourism leaders must be accountable  DA leader Mmusi Maimane recently said that the DA will be ready to govern South Africa in 2019… so it does need to give substance and action plans to its well-meaning but otherwise meaningless policies.

So here are some suggestions for municipalities: 

  • Municipalities must promote the destination and not the municipality.  You cannot go on diluting brands and confusing the public.  (This will present challenges in Pretoria/Tshwane and Port Elizabeth/Nelson Mandela Bay but it does need to be addressed.) See also: Municipalities/areas are NOT attractions or destinations!
  • Municipalities must support representative tourism organisations financially without expecting to run them or receive branding rights.  Public funding must be dependent on broad participation by local businesses in the DMO.
  • Municipalities must prioritise and categorise tourism opportunities.  Not all towns and villages are tourism towns and, in some towns, tourism funding should rather be allocated to broader economic development. See also: Categorising towns will be the real tourism game-changer!
  • Municipalities must nurture partnerships and CIDs to ensure that towns are clean, safe and present quality environments.

At the end of the day, success in tourism requires clean, safe and attractive environments – which a municipality can provide – and vibrant attractions – which only the private sector can provide.

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