The Standing Committee on Finance, Economic Opportunities, and Tourism (the Committee) in the Western Cape Provincial Parliament (WCPP) convened a hybrid meeting to engage with various stakeholders on the readiness plans for the 2023/24 tourism season. The Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT) briefed the Committee on its readiness plans, the state of readiness of the Provincial Government, expectations for the 2023/24 tourism season, and the results of the G4J Tourism Challenge. The Department of Transport and Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) shared information about the readiness of the Cape Town International Airport (CTIA) and updated the Committee on the ICT-related challenges of the e-gates at the CTIA. The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) updated the Committee on the processing of skills visas, working visas, and tourism visas in preparation for the 2023/24 tourism season. The Committee was lastly briefed by the Department of Transport and the National Public Transport Regulator (NPTR) on corrective measures to address the backlog in issuing tourism operating licenses.
The Committee was encouraged and satisfied with the readiness plans of the various stakeholders for the 2023/24 tourism season and welcomed the sense of responsibility by the National Departments to support the economy and tourism initiatives in the Western Cape. An area of concern was the effect that the unresolved operating license challenges would have on the approaching tourist season. The Committee was assured that the newly appointed NPTR Committee was committed to minimising delays and ensuring that applications are finalised within the prescribed timelines stipulated in the Act. The Department was committed to continuous engagement with the industry and other sector departments to improve administrative and regulatory processes in the operating license environment.
The Chairperson remarked that multiple presentations were on the agenda. She asked the various delegations to brief in order to allow adequate time for discussions.
Minister’s opening remarks
Ms Mireille Wenger, Minister of Finance and Economic Opportunities, said it was important to plan and prepare for the upcoming summer season. Western Cape Tourism had not only recovered from the pandemic but was growing. Seven new flights with seven new routes have been established. She was pleased to share that 15 African destinations now have direct flights into and from Cape Town. Last year, tourists visiting Cape Town generated R24.3 billion and supported 10 600 jobs, reflecting the importance of tourism to job creation. She applauded the excellent job done by the Cape Town ACSA team, and all the partners, notably Wesgro, DEDAT, CTIA, V&A Waterfront, and other private sector partners. International seat capacity is expected to surge by 25% in the summer season, which presents a unique opportunity given the contribution of tourism to economic development and job creation. The expected increase in numbers requires careful and proper planning by all stakeholders present and in the industry. This is to ensure that every visitor is warmly welcomed, experiences a memorable stay, and comes back and shares their stories, thereby further increasing the tourism numbers. Tourism is linked to the Western Cape Government Growth Strategy. The goal is to develop a R1 trillion economy that is resilient, thriving, inclusive, and growing between four and six percent by 2035. Exports are one of the pillars to achieve this goal and vision, with tourism being part of the export pillar. The goal is to double tourism by 2035 because it would contribute to job creation in the province. However, the province needs partners such as the ACSA team to help with more direct flights into Cape Town so that more visitors from around the world can experience what the Western Cape and South Africa are able to offer.
Mr Velile Dube, Head of Department (HOD), DEDAT, was excited about the opportunity to welcome the visitors and to secure their safety. He was hoping the tourism season would present the opportunity for visitors to become ambassadors and for the Western Cape to become a destination not only for holidays but also for investment.
Ms Ilse van Schalkwyk, Chief Director: Economic Sector, DEDAT, said the Department had presented the first readiness plans in 2022, soon after the Covid-19 period. Following legacy constraints on the tourism industry in the Northern Hemisphere, the Western Cape needed to put measures in place to be season-ready. The key focus areas involve destination readiness, visitor safety, destination accessibility, and workforce readiness:
A destination readiness dialogue is scheduled to take place on 19 October 2023 to discuss key issues facing the industry in anticipation of a busy tourism season.
Visitor safety initiatives, both on national and provincial levels, have been implemented to secure the safety of visitors. On a national level, 250 tourism monitors will be deployed in hotspots across the Western Cape. The SAPS had committed to make police reservists available to assist with tourism safety. Provincial visitor safety initiatives include the deployment of 20 Chrysalis graduates as tourism safety offices at key hotspots in Cape Town, a Tourist Safety Forum with public and private sector representation, and a Tourist Safety Support Unit to support tourists in distress.
To enhance destination accessibility, by the Cape Town Air Access and Cape Town Cruise teams have planned a series of events and activations to support the return of airlines and cruise ships to the province. 41 learners, funded by the Department, will be assisting with general tasks at the airport.
To secure workforce readiness, the Department convened a Tourism Skills Forum with industry bodies, TVET colleges, and other partners to bridge the skills gap and link skills supply with demand. Learners and graduates have been equipped with hospitality-related skills and are available to assist with a broad range of hospitality-related activities during the tourist season.
Ms Wrenelle Stander, CEO, Wesgro, said Wesgro was very conscious of the important role of tourism as a lever for economic growth. The organisation continues to focus on growth because of the multiplier effect, the labour absorption intensity as well as tourism visibility to generate opportunities for SMMEs. Wesgro is planning to launch domestic campaigns shortly and has campaigns underway internationally, actively taking the Western Cape to the world. A team was covering the full extent of the USA before the next tourism season. Wesgro has been working with DEDAT to unlock opportunities and alleviate the risks associated with the upcoming tourism season. The organisation is encouraged by the return of large-scale business events and the public-private partnerships with Cape Town Cruise and Cape Town Air Access.
Ms Jean Scheltema, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Wesgro, stated that the international campaign for important markets was on track. The most successful international campaign to date is the USA and UK tourism markets for which Wesgro has won multiple awards. Wesgro has been leveraging partnerships for greater impact, such as the partnership with SA Tourism UK and Wesgro. The funding was shared equally with unprecedented return on investment. The domestic campaign aims to inspire local travellers to explore different sights and places in the province.
Ms Monika Ieul, Chief Marketing Officer, Wesgro, said the focus of the tourism promotion and facilitation strategy is to grow the international travel market and double the arrivals in the next couple of years. The focus in terms of new markets includes Brazil, Canada, India Ireland, Belgium, and the African destinations. Wesgro is relying on Cape Town Air Access colleagues for a greater airlift out of Africa. The Cape Town Cruise operator is important because it targets high-value international travellers. Local marketing campaigns attract South Africans from other provinces to travel to Cape Town and the Western Cape. Domestic travel stimulates businesses and the tourism economy in underprivileged areas of the province.
Mr G Brinkhuis (Al-Jama-ah) was looking forward to an exciting tourism season. He drew attention to members from a local agricultural organisation, Agrimat International Express, who were present and wanted to contribute towards tourism in the Western Cape through their programmes. He asked if Wesgro and their partners could play an active role in ensuring that local organisations, mostly in the agricultural sector, benefit from the upcoming tourism season.
Mr A Van der Westhuizen (DA) applauded the marketing innovation strategies of Wesgro. But he was concerned about rural towns in the Cape Winelands and West Coast that have been losing out on financial support. In the past, the local tourism information offices were often paid a commission for referring independent tourists, who fly into Cape Town to explore different areas, to local guest houses and hotels. Changes in the marketing function meant that commission was paid to other initiatives such as online booking systems. As a result, many tourist information offices closed down even though these offices were often the source of information about lesser-known attractions. However, municipalities are unable to fund these offices. He wanted to know if local tourist offices still had a role to play in stimulating rural tourism because rural towns are often most in need of foreign money.
Mr I Sileku (DA) asked if volunteers and reservists would be mostly deployed in the Western Cape or if rural areas would also benefit from this initiative. He wanted to know if conversations had been held with the Transport Sector to ensure its contribution to tourist safety.
The Chairperson was interested in the 1 200 tour operators or tour guides that have registered. She had recently been informed by a tour guide that it costs R3 500 to apply for a permit. She asked if the Provincial Government could ease the permit backlog. She wanted to know if growth in the domestic tourism market had been reported and if local campaigns would be addressing the growth in the local market which had been an area of stagnation.
The Minister explained that the strategy is to get local and international tourists to Cape Town where they could be informed about other offerings in the Western Cape such as agri-tourism and attractions in rural towns. The aim is to let tourists stay longer in Cape Town and surrounding provinces hence the importance of the visa regime and extension to allow tourists to visit more areas in the country.
Ms Stander explained the continuum of roles at play in terms of destination marketing in the tourism industry. Wesgro plays in the consideration space where tourists consider the Western Cape as a destination to visit. Once a tourist arrives, different entities play a role such as Cape Town Tourism which provides guidance on places to visit while DEDAT is responsible for safety and mechanisms to contact the authorities. Despite the different roles, there is full alignment and collaboration across the continuum.
Ms Ieul said based on the statistics, the domestic tourist figures for the upcoming season are expected to be at the same level as the previous year. The citizenry of the Western Cape is a key focus area of the domestic market. Wesgro is encouraging citizens to experience wine farms and smaller dorpies along the West Coast and to visit more frequently, especially during the off-peak season. To this end, Wesgro is partnering with leisure events by targeting small dorpies across the province.
Mr Rashid Toefy, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Economic Operations, DEDAT, thanked Mr Brinkhuis for acknowledging local players that should be involved in the tourism value chain. He encouraged members of the community who want to be part of the industry, to approach and share their potential projects with the Department. DEDAT has other programmes to support small businesses to participate in the economy and with other aspects of joining the tourism sector such as funding or removing constraints. DEDAT has the designated authority to issue tourist guide permits and nothing else is required. The other transport operator permits fall under the National Government mandate.
Ms van Schalkwyk explained that the mandate given to Wesgro is to ensure that tourists visit Cape Town. The function of DEDAT is to cover in-destination aspects of tourism. She undertook to take the detail of the agricultural organisation present for further engagement. The aim of the growth for jobs strategy is to draw people out of the city. She replied to Mr Van der Westhuizen that rural tourist centres still have a role to play. She acknowledged the concerns about the disruptive effect of online bookings on the tourism ecosystem. The majority of local tourism organisations depend on grants from local municipalities while the membership base of some ranges between 20 and 30%. The function of registering tour guides had been delegated to the Provincial Department. In terms of domestic tourism figures, she reported that 80 million trips had been recorded for quarters one and two of the current financial year.
Mr Jacques Stoltz, Director: tourism, DEDAT, said the Department was also concerned about the defunding of tourism at municipal level. The deployment of reservists is a paid-for service. The deployment strategy is based on an analysis of hotspots. The South African Tourism Services Association (SATSA) is a key partner in addressing safety concerns. Engagement with the SAPS and the Department of Transport was ongoing.
Mr Zakhele Thwala, DDG: Civil Aviation, Department of Transport, introduced Mr Maclean as the ACSA representative to share the preparation from the ACSA perspective. Mr Moeketsi Sikhudo from the Department of Transport would later provide an update on the challenges with operating licences.
Mr Mark Maclean, Regional General Manager: CTIA, ACSA, provided feedback on matters since the previous engagement with the Committee. He explained that the cluster is managing four airports, i.e. Cape Town International Airport, George Airport, Upington International Airport, and Kimberley Airport. For the purpose of the discussion, he focused on Cape Town International Airport. The airport wants to be a gracious host and play a role in the upcoming tourism season by getting the basics right. He presented the following summary of the response plans:
Additional resourcing from the Boarder Management Agency (BMA) and improved reliability of e-gates;
Deployment of resources to support BMA at immigration;
Increased JET A1 fuel storage and monthly forecasting and engagements with suppliers;
Additional security deployment on the landside with support from the SAPS and Metro Police to ensure safe access for airport users;
Increased focus on the invaded eastern land;
Focus on crime prevention and stop touting; and
Effective security deployment, passenger fast-track, and dynamic check-in counter management.
An official from ACSA provided an update on the ICT challenges related to the e-gates at the airport. The interface of the biometric scanners with the Department of Home Affairs impacts the reliability and speed of the system. Service levels are reduced when the e-gates are not in use. More staff is required to manage e-gates. Modified software and new hardware is required to improve system speed and reliability. The plan is for international travellers to use the e-gates and change from fingerprint to facial biometric recognition.
Mr Brinkhuis asked for more details about the planned routes to Sao Paulo. On a visit to Sao Paulo last year, he had the opportunity to engage with their local government officials. He had observed great prospects from which our local agricultural sector could benefit as a result of the improved relationship between South Africa and Brazil. He asked how the learnership programme between DEDAT and CTIA came into being and how it was benefitting CTIA. He viewed the programme as beneficial for other organisations to take participate.
Mr Van der Westhuizen said domestic tourism in the off-season was important for rural towns. He noted the high price sensitivity for George airport. He queried the prices of flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town which is the most active route. He asked if the prices would decrease when a flight is fully booked. He wanted to know if the option of low-cost airlines is being considered and if it would be fully funded and profitable.
Mr L Mvimbi (ANC) asked if the airport in Plettenberg Bay formed part of the CTIA cluster or if it is an independent operation. He wanted to know if the invaded land near the airport belonged to ACSA, the National or Provincial Government, or the City of Cape Town.
The Chairperson said the demand for more flights to Cape Town appeared to have increased. She asked how soon the frequency of flights from key markets could be increased. She sought clarity on whether South Africans with one passport would be able to use the facial recognition option at the e-gates. She asked when would people with dual passports and international visitors be able to use the e-gates.
Mr Maclean replied to Mr Brinkhuis that flights to Sao Paulo occur on Wednesdays and Sundays. The frequency could increase depending on the demand. On the DEDAT learnership programme he explained that ACSA recruits graduates with no experience from colleges and technical institutions. The learners are deployed in different areas of the business to gain a broad range of skills and experience which would make them more marketable. He explained that the lead factor plays a big role in determining the prices of flight tickets and is dependent on demand and supply. The earlier the booking, the cheaper the flight. On average, domestic flights are filled up to 75% and could reach up to more than 90% during peak season. Airlines are profitable above 70%. He stated that Plettenberg Bay Airport is privately owned but in terms of a partnership agreement, it is able to use the George Airport as an alternative when it is closed. He remarked that the majority of land invasions occur on land owned by the Department of Public Works. ACSA has an agreement to buy the land but it must first be cleared of informal settlements. Housing projects to relocate the people have stalled due to construction challenges but ACSA has been working with the Department of Public Works to start the sale of the land.
Mr Thwala said more frequency became available after the recovery from the Covid-19 period but South Africa had been unable to take up the available frequency. Airlink was trying its best to fill the gap.
Mr Maclean said the regulator, which falls under the Department of Transport, determines the tariff which includes costs and the new programme. The outcome of the programme is based on a five-year review.
Mr Yusuf Simons, Western Cape Provincial Manager, DHA, reported that tourist movements recorded during May 2023 were 16% less than during the pre-Covid-19 period. Tourist arrivals from Africa increased by 85%, accounting for 75% of total arrivals from January to May 2023. The UK remains the main overseas source market and reported growth of 50%. The statistics had been extracted from the May 2023 StatsSA Tourism and Migration Report.
The rollout of the e-visa system is part of the Government’s plan to streamline and modernise the visa application process and to make tourism, business, and work-related travel to South Africa easier. The Department processes e-visa applications for the 14 countries to which the e-visa platform was rolled out. During the February 2022 SONA, the President announced a review of the visa regime, i.e. Operation Vulindlela, to make it easier for foreigners to travel to the country for tourism, business, and work. The review aims to attract needed skills to enable economic growth. Legal Services had redrafted the regulations pertaining to the Operation Vulindlela inputs made by the Office of the Chief State Law Advisor (OCSLA). It is envisaged that the redrafted regulations will be submitted for certification to OCSLA by 30 September 2023.
Mr Brinkhuis asked for an update on the negotiations about waiving visa requirements for the Saudi Arabia flights. DIRCO had implemented structures to negotiate trips to Saudi Arabia for Muslims. It appears to be fairly easy for people from the subcontinent to visit South Africa judging by the large number of Indian tourists that he had been noting. He asked how the DHA viewed the collaboration between DEDAT and the CTIA in terms of the learnership programme. The organisation present would be encouraged if learners in the agricultural sector could benefit from similar opportunities.
Mr Mvimbi observed that the biggest number of tourists were reported to come from Zimbabwe. He questioned whether the Zimbabweans had registered as refugees, asylum seekers, or tourists. He said it was common knowledge that work permits with visas issued to Africans, are mostly for domestic workers and gardeners. He asked if the DHA had verified that the tourist figures included permits for domestic workers and gardeners. He enquired about the role of the private company, Visa Facility Service (VFS) in the processing of e-visas and wanted to know how the DHA was managing the backlog of the private company.
Mr Van der Westhuizen noted a sense of responsibility by the Department to support the economy and tourism. His understanding of the concept of a visa is to not return a tourist to the border but to screen the reason for the visit or to identify unwanted visitors. He stated that the work of the province is impacted by problems with the State Information Technology Agency (SITA). He questioned the sharp increase in the numbers from Zimbabwe and sought clarity about the statistics. considering that some only come for a day or two to do shopping. He asked if the Department was running a parallel e-visa system and if the first system would be replaced if the second system was found to be working better.
The Chairperson said the Committee was informed in the previous meeting that the remote working visa process would be finalised by June 2023. The Minister had indicated the need for more public participation and a legal opinion. She asked to what extend the timeline had shifted to bring the visa into function and to have the checklist signed off by Legal Services. She wanted to know when the amendment would be gazetted for public comment and if the amendments would come into effect by 30 September 2023 or a later date.
Mr Simons replied to Mr Brinkhuis that the Department deals with individual visa holders while the government of Saudi Arabia has a need to manage visitors to their country. The Department had not received a visa waiver request from India. The Department has a learnership and internship programme and, at the time of reporting, was engaged in a recruitment drive. He advised that the statistics on tourist figures were reported by StatsSA and he was unable to elaborate on the data. He was aware that border communities allow for frequent travelling without a visa. The Department does not issue visas to gardeners and domestic workers and those categories are most likely recorded under a special dispensation because it is not classified as critical skills. He explained that the private company, VFS, receives applications on behalf of the Department but does not adjudicate the applications. It is merely a contact point with the client, and acts as an agency for applications and collections and does not have a backlog. He said the e-visa serves as permission to report to immigration services on arrival at the point of entry. At this point, entry might be refused as in the case of the group of Pakistan nationals. The screening process takes place at the foreign mission and becomes valid once it is checked. For example, a person on the Interpol watch list will be prevented from boarding. He assured the Committee that all checks are in place to protect the country. He explained that the increase in travelling is based on StatsSA figures which he had been sharing for information purposes and which the Department is using as a guide in its work for economic and tourism development. The turnaround time for e-visa processing is five days and there is no backlog. The turnaround time could be shorter but had been impacted by the abuse of the system as was reported in the case of the Pakistan nationals. The verification and screening processes for nationals from high-risk countries had been strengthened. He attributed the delay in the remote working visa process to the redrafting of the regulations which took a while to complete. He acknowledged that the officials might have been ambitious with the finalisation date at the start of the process. The Department is required to report back to the OCSLA by 30 September 2023 and was unsure when the changes would be approved. The approval would be followed with consultations with the Minister and thereafter a 30-day period would be allowed for public comment. The Department was under pressure to finalise the process because the Presidency is expected to make an announcement in the 2024 SONA.
The Chairperson appreciated the hard work and transparency on the matter because it creates more trust and accountability. She advised Members to submit further questions in writing.
Department of Transport Presentation
Mr Moeketsi Sikhudo, Director, DoT, reported on interventions to clear the operating license backlog. The National Public Transport Regulator (NPTR) had considered and cleared the backlog of 1 014 applications. The collaborative workshops held with the industry during March and April 2023 have yielded disappointing results in terms of the upliftment or collection of approved operating licences. Uncollected licences would be cancelled by the NPTR. On 6 June 2023, the Minister appointed five new members to the NPTR Committee. The newly appointed Committee is committed to minimise delays and ensuring that applications are finalised within the prescribed timelines as stipulated in the Act. The Department is committed to continuous engagement with the industry and other sector departments to improve administrative and regulatory processes in the operating license environment. Engagements with the Operation Vulindlela team and industry representatives for an on-site visit to the NPTR offices were continuing to improve awareness and a better understanding of the processes.
The Chairperson stated that some operators were still waiting on their licences to be issued. She asked how the amendments to the regulations would simplify the process. She wanted to know if temporary permits could be issued. She suggested that charter operating licences should be allowed instead of waiting for permits as a result of the backlog. She enquired how the NPTR Committee had been appointed and what type of skills were considered for the appointments.
Mr Sikhudo replied that in terms of the regulations, Committee Members must be designated Department of Transport officials with knowledge and experience in the transport sector. The three main areas of skills required are knowledge of transport briefly, public sector transport specifically, and a legal understanding of the licensing regime. The Minister handpicked five candidates from the group of experienced officials. The group of five officials changes each year. The Land Transport Act Amendment Bill proposes the appointment of a permanent body comprising independent individuals from outside the Department. He advised that the standardisation of operating licences was open for discussion. The Department had developed Standard Operating Procedures to be followed by Provincial Regulators and the NPTR. The Department was considering various options to stabilise the operating license conditions and provide national guidelines following the taxi violence in the Western Cape. He cautioned against the introduction of charter operating licences because it could have unintended consequences and might make the situation difficult to manage. The Department welcomes input to improve the environment but charter operating licences were not the best option. A key area of contention is getting rid of conditions that are not required in terms of the law and reducing the checklist to a minimum to simplify the operating licence process.
The Chairperson was concerned about the effect that the unresolved operating license issue would have on the approaching tourist season. She asked what measures are in place to alleviate any bad impression that might result from the impounding of vehicles. She wanted to if the process could not be made easier for operators to continue their business.
Mr Sikhudo, said it would be difficult to introduce a dispensation to allow entry to new operators because it might create unintended consequences for tourists and the country. Tourists might complain about being driven around by operators without proper documentation and in unroadworthy vehicles. The process is easier for the renewal of operating licences.
The Chairperson said she would follow up in writing with the NPTR Committee.
Mr Sikhudo, said the message might get lost if it is done in writing and suggested to the Chairperson to consider a one-on-one meeting with the NPTR Committee.
The Chairperson thanked Mr Sikhudo for the suggestion. She requested Members to e-mail their resolutions for consideration to the Procedural Officer.
The meeting was adjourned.
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