ATC170601: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Tourism on oversight visit to Free State Province, dated 1 June 2017
The Portfolio Committee on Tourism, having undertaken the provincial oversight visit to Free State Province from 27 – 31 March 2017, reports as follows:
The Free State Province is one of the nine provinces in South Africa with its capital city in Bloemfontein. The Province, with a population of about 2.7 million, lies in the centre of the country, hence usually called the heart of South Africa. The economy of the province is largely derived from the agricultural sector, however, the largest contributor towards employment remains the rich goldfields reef. The Province takes up about 10.6 percent of South Africa’s land area and is considered the breadbasket of the country with roughly 3.2 million hectares of cultivated land.
Geographically, the Province shares a border with Lesotho which is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). It also shares its borders with Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape.
The tourism sector in the Province contributes about 3 percent to the economy of the Province and represents 5 percent of the country’s tourism market. In the 2016 State of the Province Address, the Premier announced a number of key interventions to be implemented in order to strengthen efforts to achieve accelerated and inclusive economic growth in the province. Tourism was identified as one of the key sectors, hence the introduction of a tourism grant for product development.
The Province further launched the Big 5 Route Concept (B5RC). The B5RC seeks to ensure that the routes are equipped with products that would entice tourists to stay longer in the province. To further increase domestic market, the new Tourism Television Programme was launched, the purpose being to educate and entertain viewers about Free State tourism.
The Free State Tourism Authority also intended to launch a mobile app to allow the environmental education centre in Naval Hill and finalised it during the 2016/17 financial year. The centre is meant to support learners in environmental education and will increase the number of visitors to the Naval Hill and the Planetarium. The provincial Department further allocated R58 million for collaborative marketing efforts with the National Department of Tourism, South African Tourism and Brand South Africa.
The Province performed better when compared to 2015 in terms of international arrivals to the Province, taking position five. The Province had the third highest number of bed nights but the lowest tourism spend achieving position eight with majority of the nights being unpaid accommodation provided by friends and relatives.
The oversight conducted in the Free State was meant to fully assess the tourism potential of the province as part of destination South Africa and ascertain why this province is not performing well on domestic tourism given its central geographical location in the country. The refined assumption would be that Free State should be doing well in domestic tourism given its heritage assets and strategic location.
- Objectives of the oversight visit
The purpose and objectives of the oversight visit were:
- To assess the state of tourism in the Free State Province.
- To ascertain cooperation and coordination amongst the spheres of government in developing, managing, and marketing tourism.
- To assess the programmes implemented to promote growth and development of the tourism sector in the province.
- To assess the level of stakeholder participation by both the public and private sectors.
- To assess the support for cultural, heritage, and township tourism.
- To evaluate support for sustainable livelihoods with regards to small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs); and
- To evaluate the implementation of the tourism Social Responsibility Implementation (SRI) projects in the province.
- Committee delegation
The Committee consisted of the following members and included the support staff:
Figure 1: Delegation
Name of Member
Hon. B.T Ngcobo (Chairperson)
Hon. P.E Adams
Hon. E.K.M Masehele
Hon. L.S. Makhubela- Mashele
African National Congress (ANC)
Hon. J. Vos
Democratic Alliance (DA)
Ms. N. Qumbisa
Mr. J. Boltina
Dr. P.S. Khuzwayo
Ms. J. Ntuli
Ms. B. Mbelane
Assistant to the Chairperson
The Committee was accompanied and assisted by the following officials from the National Department of Tourism: Mr J. Khulane, Director: Programme Planning and Support; Mr M. Mququ, Deputy Director: Programme Planning and Support; Mr B. Canham: Project Manager Free State; and Ms P. van Niekerk, Parliamentary Liaison Officer: Office of the Director General.
The provincial officials from the Department of Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs included: Ms M. Mahlatsi-Mabuza, Director: Tourism Development and Support; Mr D. Pillay, Chief Executive Officer: Free State Tourism Authority; Mr K. Thole, General Manager: Marketing; Mr N. Mboba, Parliamentary Liaison Officer: Office of the Premier; Mr M. Ngcangca, Acting Provincial Registrar - Tourist Guides; Ms M. Mahlathi, Director: Department of Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs.
- The oversight process
During the planning process, the Committee took a decision to visit all the nine provinces to meet and have engagements with various tourism stakeholders. The Free State Province is the fifth province to be visited by the Committee. A number of meetings and discussion sessions were arranged through the Office of the Premier in the province. The Committee’s perspective entailed that the oversight visits had to meet four broad objectives, namely to receive a provincial perspective on the state of tourism in Free State Province; to follow up on investments made by the National Department of Tourism (NDT) on Social Responsibility Intervention (SRI) projects in the province; to assess provincial tourism attractions and their maintenance; and to engage tourism stakeholders to get an appreciation of the best practices, challenges and suggestions on how the three spheres of government can improve on tourism service delivery. The Committee had an opportunity to visit selected SRI projects implemented by the NDT through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) funding.
- The oversight scheduled
The Committee held a number of stakeholder meetings and visited Social Responsibility Implementation projects scheduled in the oversight programme as indicated in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Oversight visit schedule in Free State Province
27 March 2017
28 March 2017
29 March 2017
Emoya Estate, Bloemfontein
Golden Gate Highlands National Park
30 March 2017
Golden Gate Highlands
31 March 2017
Committee debriefing session with the Province
- The oversight process
The week long oversight programme of the Committee included the stakeholder engagements, visits to tourist attractions, and visits to projects as outlined in the oversight schedule in Figure 2 above. The Committee has adopted an effective approach in its oversight work where the priorities of the oversight include the entire tourism value chain instead of focusing on projects funded by the NDT alone. This has assisted the Committee in having a 360 degrees overview of the tourism sector in provinces and gained invaluable insights on how the provinces are aligned to the national strategies in pursuit of achieving the National Development Plan (NDP) imperatives. The oversight visit to the Free State was no different as the Committee conducted oversight on all the facets of the tourism industry in the province. The overall oversight process was meant to culminate in an evaluation of the socio-economic impacts of tourism in the province.
- Stakeholder engagements
The stakeholder engagement sessions held with communities and tourism authorities discussed hereunder are clustered according to categories of stakeholders engaged by the Committee instead of the day in which the sessions were held. This is done to provide an easy reference on perspectives and common issues raised by various categories of stakeholders. The interaction with the provincial government led by the Chief Executive Officer for the Free State Tourism Authority and the Director responsible for Tourism Development and Support yielded important insights for the Committee on the state of tourism in the Province. This engagement was used as a springboard for subsequent engagements with other stakeholders later in the oversight visit.
5.1 State of tourism in Free State Province
In the briefing session by the provincial authorities, the Chief Executive Officer of Free State Tourism Authority (FSTA) apprised the Committee about the five reasons for a tourist to visit the Free State Province based on five routes. The Big 5 incorporates five tourist routes designed to take a tourist through each of the provinces major regions, showing off its many facets, including cultural, natural geographic, culinary and commercial aspects.
Tourism statistics (2014) indicate that trips by purpose in the province shows that visits to Friends and Relatives (VFR) has the largest share of the total tourism within the Free State province at 45.18 percent. The leisure / holiday tourism comes in the second place at 25.37 percent. Business tourism occupies the third place at 18.45 percent, and others (such as medical, religious) at 11.0 percent. The Province reported the statistics were sourced from international tourists (57 percent) and domestic tourists (43 percent). The performance of tourism in the five routes of the province are as follows:
The Cheetah Route – Visiting Friends and Relatives has 38.07 percent and has the largest share within the Cheetah Route. Leisure tourism came in second at 29.40 percent. The Business tourism came third at 22.48 percent. The other such (medical and religious) came at 10.06 percent. Cheetah tourism statistics come from international (61 percent) and domestic (39 percent).
The Eagle Route – this route provides possibilities of the province to encourage foreign visitors to use the Free State as a base from which to explore Lesotho. This area is also viewed as having a significant historical heritage that could potentially be linked to the battlefield areas of KwaZulu-Natal. This would require the Free State Tourism Authority to engage with Tourism KZN on developing this aspect further.
The proposed primary attractions include the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Maluti and Drakensberg Mountains, including Witsieshoek, the proposed Dinosaur visitor interpretive centre at the Golden Gate and Qwa Qwa National Park; Gateway to Lesotho; Gateway to KZN Berg and Battlefield destinations.
The Eagle Route visitor statistics are that Visiting Friends and Relatives at 45.74 percent has the largest share within the route. Leisure tourism came in second at 27.83 percent. Business tourism came in third at 16.54 percent. Others (such as medical and religious) came last at 9.89 percent.
The Lion Route – the proposed primary attractions include Vaal River and Vaal Dam with associated water-based and adventure activities and the Vredefort Dome which is a World Heritage Site. The proposed secondary attractions include heritage monuments; battlefields and events and festivals.
The Lion Route statistics show that Visiting Friends and Relatives at 48 percent has the largest share within the Lion Route. Leisure tourism came in second at 21 percent. Business tourism came third at 19 percent. Other such as (medical and religious tourism) came at 12 percent.
The Flamingo Route – the proposed primary attractions include events and motor sport, while the secondary attractions include Heritage and Battlefields (for example, Paardeberg Battlefields, Karee Battlefield), gold mine tours and Willem Pretorius Game Reserve.
The Flamingo Route tourism statistics indicate that Visiting Friends and Relatives at 61 percent and has the largest share within the Flamingo route. Leisure tourism came in second at 11 percent; and the other such as medical and religious tourism) came last at 17 percent.
The Springbok Route – this is known as a water and wine sub-destination. The proposed primary attractions include the Orange River and Gariep Dam (with associated water based and adventure activities). The proposed secondary attractions include Heritage; Dam cruise and discovery of diamonds.
The Springbok Route tourism statistics indicate that Leisure tourism is at 39 percent and has the largest share within the Springbok route. Visiting Friends and Relatives tourism came in second at 38 percent. Business tourism came in third at 19 percent. Other such as (medical and religious tourism) came at 4 percent.
The Free State Economic Profile indicates that the Province contributes 5 percent towards the Gross Domestic Product of the country. The rate of unemployment is at 26.5 percent. Sectors seen as viable economic sectors include: mining; agriculture, manufacturing industry, electronic and water, construction, trade and catering, transport and communication, finance and real estate and service. There has been significant change in the impact of these sectors leading to tourism being chosen as the new sector that can bring change.
This is aligned to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) which has identified tourism as a potential sector for economic growth especially in developing countries like South Africa. According to the UNWTO every 8 tourists create 1 permanent job. Simply translated tourism has begun to be a “new gold” for the economy which has seen tremendous decline in mining and agriculture. The national and provincial government has concurred with WTO and has escalated tourism to begin to respond to the economic decline seen in these sectors. The establishment of Ministry of Tourism was to propel the sector to respond to the current challenges.
5.2 Meeting with tourism stakeholders at Emoya Estate in Bloemfontein/ City of Mangaung
The Committee has established through its own research that the main barriers to entry or constraints confronting tourism sector SMMEs include lack of marketing skills and tools; competition from dominant large enterprises; inconsistent cash flows; lack of resources to upgrade or purchase new equipment; high cost of inputs; limited market and customer base in rural areas; lack of market-related information and industry data; and difficulty meeting tourism grading and accreditation standards. The interaction between the Committee and the stakeholders in Bloemfontein highlighted the following issues that were raised for consideration and action by government and relevant structures:
- Local Tourism Organisations are not structured, as a result they are not coherent when approaching government, whether local, provincial or national.
- There is a lack of Visitor Information Centres in the province and the existing ones do not serve the purposes they were created for.
- Bloemfontein needs an integrated transport system that will also take into account the needs of the people with disabilities.
- There is lack of clear role clarification and responsibilities amongst the tourism stakeholders.
- Tourism events calendar is not regularly updated to keep tourism stakeholders informed in advance of events in their towns.
- Insufficient tourism infrastructure and signage affects tourism experiences around the province.
- Lack of transformation in the tourism sector still persists and there are no programmes to assist the emerging tourism enterprises.
- Transport permit system for tour operators is a challenge and there are no mechanisms put by the province in place to facilitate the process.
- Diversification of tourism SMMEs is a challenge as most products are in then accommodation sector.
- Capacity building and training in basic business skills/ business management is necessary to assist the emerging tourism enterprises in the province. Training should also be extended to business and hospitality management through mentorship programmes.
- Incubation and enterprise mentorship support should be considered to ensure that that there is a decline in the mortality rate of emerging tourism enterprises.
- Access to funding; including non-financial support to develop new products and access markets is needed. The funding model that promotes tourism cooperatives is not ideal as some members do not participate enthusiastically leaving a few or sometimes one member to run the business. The national government and the province should find ways of funding emerging tourism enterprises run by individuals on the basis of viability of the business concept and dedication by business proponents.
- Emerging enterprises should be assisted to register with professional bodies to access the market. Currently small businesses are not assisted by big trade associations and their plight is neglected. There is a necessity for the province to intervene and assist emerging enterprises to access the services of trade associations. The support should extend to facilitating networking and the development of partnerships.
- The regulatory burden causes compliance challenges for emerging tourism enterprises. Assistance is needed to understand and comply with industry regulatory standards.
5.3 Stakeholder engagements at Town Hall in Bethlehem/ Dithlabeng Local Municipality
The interaction between the Committee and the stakeholders in Bethlehem raised the following issues for consideration and action by government and relevant structures:
- Niche tourism such as religious/ pilgrimage tourism and agri-tourism have a potential to grow if they could be fully supported by relevant authorities. The authorities were urged to explore these niche tourism markets for further development.
- Local Tourism Associations are uncoordinated and weak. Some stakeholders did not even know the municipality officials responsible for tourism in their jurisdictions.
- The Visitor Information Centre operates from a library in Senekal. This is hidden from people who should be accessing it and municipal operating hours are not conducive for the tourism sector as the library is also closed on holidays.
- Tourism is not prioritised at a local government level and is treated as an unfunded mandate. Some municipalities do not have tourism budget and cannot fulfil their constitutional mandate of promoting local tourism.
- The Information Technology (IT) system of the municipalities and Free State Tourism Authority websites are weak and are not adequately developed to meet the needs of contemporary tourists. This affects marketing of the individual businesses and the destination as a whole as the website are not updated with current information. Websites also do not have interactive capabilities to allow potential tourists to make bookings online.
- Lack of role clarification and responsibilities hampers tourism development. There is poor coordination between the provincial, district and local municipalities. The private sector is not sure who to deal with as they are sent from pillar to post on issues of tourism development.
- Lack of political will to drive and champion tourism at local government level remains a challenge. The political office bearers responsible for tourism do not take this industry seriously as they prioritise other tangible service delivery matters. Tourism competes with other service delivery imperatives and is always sacrificed when budgets are reprioritised. Tourism therefore needs local political champions to steer it forward.
- Tourism infrastructure and signage is also a challenge around the Bethlehem/ Dithlabeng local municipality area. The provincial and local authorities fail to assist the tourism businesses as they always shift the responsibility to the Department of Transport.
- Lack of access to land impacts on tourism growth and development. It is difficult to access land for tourism development and this is frustrating to aspiring tourism entrepreneurs.
- Project Site visits
The Department of Tourism is funding and managing the implementation of tourism infrastructure and skills development projects through its Expanded Public Works programme, namely, the Social Responsibility Implementation Programme (SRI). The SRI funding is exclusively appropriated for EPWP compliant projects. The SRI programme is geared towards poverty alleviation and job creation through tourism development as well as kills development. The Committee visited some SRI projects to obtain the latest information related to programme implementation; budget and expenditure invested in the projects; lessons learnt and critical success factors; challenges encountered and remedial actions implemented; and sharing of information about the funding process, criteria and requirements. The Committee visited other projects which are not funded by the National Department of Tourism but which are the significant part of the product mix in the province. The visited projects are outlined below:
- Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge
The Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge is an SRI project that provides accommodation in the Drakensburg-Maluti mountains for hikers, climbers, adventure travellers and families. The Lodge is located at the base of the Drakensberg Sentinel Peak and is the highest in the Northern Drakensberg. The beneficiaries of the project is Batlokwa Tribal Community in Tsheseng and is managed by Hentiq 2715 (Pty) Limited as the operator of the commercial side of the project. The original budget allocated by the National Department of Tourism was R25.1 million.
The progress of the project was satisfying to the Committee as it is now complete and was launched by the Minister of Tourism Mr D. Hanekom in 2016. This commercial enterprise comprises of chalets and mangers house. In addition to the accommodation aspect, the budget was used for upgrading the sewerage treatment plant, staff accommodation, associated electrical and water bulk services, and purchasing furniture.
The project is efficiently managed by a management company / operator called Transfrontier Parks Destinations who have a contract with the Batlokoa Traditional Council. The operator is a tourism management and marketing company operating community owned lodges, Safari camps, and Cultural camps. The management model of Transfrontier Parks Destinations involves partnering with communities around protected areas throughout the country to commercialise their tourism assets. The Committee acknowledged that the management company has not applied for grading yet as there are plans to implement phase two of the project. Grading will be effected once phase two has been completed.
- Dinosaur Interpretive Centre Project
The Golden Gate National Park houses a site for the Dinosaur Interpretive Centre which is a Social Responsibility Project. In 1994, fences between Qwa Qwa National Park and Golden Gate Highlands National Park were dropped to enable wildlife to move freely between the parks. The excavation site was unearthed during the construction of the provincial road and houses 190 million-year-old dinosaur nesting site of the prosauropod dinosaur Massospondylus. The site reveals significant clues about the evolution of complex reproductive behaviour in early dinosaurs. This site has previously yielded the oldest known embryos belonging to Massospondylus, a relative of the giant, long-necked sauropods of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, with foetal skeletons of the upper Triassic age.
The location is accessible from the provincial road and managed by SANParks for the benefit of visitors. This is a nationally and internationally recognised location of palaeontological significance. It is a “gateway” to a recognised landscape acknowledged by its World Heritage Status. It is a site of ongoing international scientific investigation for dinosaurs which is a subject that intrigues a large portion of the world’s population. The original fossilised egg were confirmed by Professor James Kitching in 1977. The fossilised egg was then prepared by the University of Toronto in 2000. The “Nest” of eggs was discovered in 2005 which makes this a site of international importance.
The Dinosaur Interpretive Centre is implemented by the professional team of Architects, Civil, Mechanical and Electrical engineers, Quantity surveyor, Exhibition Designers, Environmental Impact Assessment practitioners and surveyors. The planning is completed (Environmental Impact Assessment and ROD issued, designs and drawings completed, the Bill of Quantities is also done, and tender documents issued). The planning documents have been submitted to the National Department of Tourism for approval after which, if approved, actual construction will commence. The project is donor funded. The main issues for design include:
- The R120 million budget which will be spent on a highly technical project
- Site constraints include a flood line, provincial road, rock geotechnical and a drainage line which makes the project highly environmental sensitive.
- Natural environment with undulating mountains which restrict the project site.
6.3 Basotho Cultural Village
The Committee had an opportunity to visit the Basotho Cultural Village to see the authentic Sotho Culture tourism experience offered to tourists. The project is in the heart of the Qwa Qwa Nature Park which has been incorporated into the world-renowned Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The Village takes the visitors for a walk down the pathway of time and demonstrates the lifestyle and architecture of the South Sotho from the sixteenth century to the present. The huts are built and furnished according to the time frame depicted by each structure. The interior and exterior decoration of huts is done by the Basotho women.
The Art Gallery boasts work of local artists and a permanent photographic exhibition of the building process of the village and art in the Eastern Free State. The curio shop offers a wide variety of Basotho arts and crafts. The interest of the visitor is won over by the majesty of the surrounding landscape and by the spiritual ethos of the Basotho people.
- The Naval Hill Planetarium Project
The Naval Hill Planetarium is a project implemented by the Department of Science and Technology with a huge potential for tourism spin-offs in the area. The project entailed upgrading of the old Lamont-Hussey Observatory also known as Sterrewag Theatre on Naval Hill as the first digital planetarium in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The initiative profiles Mangaung as an Austro-Tourism destination covering educational exposure to natural sciences through digital visitation of planets. The Mangaung Metro provided land, the Provincial Department of Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs provides tourism support of the projects, the University of Free State provides operational management of the planetarium and the Department of Science and Technology provided technological support.
- The Wesleyan Church Museum
The history of the Bloemfontein Post of 27 March 1909 records the 1909 Convention as: “There was a large attendance of natives in the Wesleyan Church School Room, Waaihoek, last night, to hear the result of the deliberations of the native convention on draft Act of Union.” The fact that this important pioneering Convention of 1909 was held in the Wesleyan school, gives credence to the premise that if a founding congress of the proposed national black organisation were to take place in Bloemfontein shortly afterwards, as indeed happened, the school building would be earmarked once again as the meeting place.
In the absence of a city hall for the black community in their area, the Wesleyan Church’s school hall was one of the few places which the black community could use for gatherings in a certain degree of comfort. The Wesleyan Methodist School Church, in Waaihoek, Bloemfontein, saw the founding of the ANC in 1912. The party was founded in the school room located at the church. The church stands in what used to be a black township in Bloemfontein in Free State province. It was in 1912 that businessmen, clergymen, journalists, lawyers and teachers held a political meeting that laid the foundations of the South African Native Congress, renamed the ANC in 1923. The facilities in the premises include a fully equipped cinema style auditorium for hire, which is able to accommodate up to 52 people.
It was concerning for the Committee to notice that this important historical site is not fully developed as a national museum. The church itself is empty without any exhibitions depicting the founding history of the African National Congress. The premises of the church is also not well maintained as there were weeds and leaking water pipes when the Committee visited the site.
- Committee observations
After visiting a number of tourist attractions and meeting various tourism stakeholders in the Free State province, including the provincial Department and the Free State Tourism as the Destination Management Organisation, the Committee made the following consolidated observations:
7.1 Lack of a Provincial Tourism Masterplan
The Committee observed that the province does not have a Provincial Tourism Masterplan. This has led to uncoordinated tourism planning in the province and silo mentality amongst tourism stakeholders in developing and marketing tourism products in the province. Consequently, there is a poor working relationship between the Free State Department and Free State Tourism which is its Destination Marketing Organisation. Product development is not aligned to the marketing strategy and this leads to uncoordinated tourism activities at a provincial level. The Committee also observed that there are five ineffective tourism routes in the province which are not based on consensus amongst provincial stakeholders. These routes also do not make any emotional appeal to potential tourists as they do not have any hooking element that will entice the visitors. As a result, there is no alignment between the product offering and tourist experiences in these routes. This in turn confuses tourists, and is tantamount to false marketing and misleading advertising. The unavailability of a Provincial Tourism Masterplan is also not conducive for tourism product development. The province does not have an integrated product development strategy.
It was also observed that the Free State Province has a strong palaeontological heritage from the dinosaur era and also boasts the Vredefort dome from the celestial events. The palaeontological heritage should be succinctly captured in the Provincial Tourism Masterplan. This also calls for special training of tourist guides who are conversant in paleontological events to provide authentic and factual information to visitors.
7.2 Poor planning and coordination at a municipal level
It was concerning to observe that there is poor planning and coordination of tourism activities at a district and local municipality levels. This was mainly attributable to the absence of Local Tourism Associations. Consequently, there is no coordination and collaborations between the private sector and municipalities. The Committee would like to reiterate that Local Tourism is a constitutional mandate and that section eight of the National Tourism Sector Strategy provides guidance on how tourism institutional arrangements should be structured at a local level.
7.3 Poor signage
The Committee observed that there is poor signage throughout the Free State province. The lack of signage is apparent from the provincial roads as there are limited brown signs for both tourism products and tourism attractions. The challenge is that the provincial and municipal officials have no strategy to assist the tourism businesses as they always shift the responsibility to the Department of Transport. The Committee considers signage as a pivotal element of the tourism experience. Signage does not only attract visitors and provide direction and information to tourists, but it is also significant in linking visitors to “product” or experiences within the province. Proper signage is pivotal link in the marketing process and must be considered an indispensable fragment of the product development process by the province. To ensure that tourism is a benefit to the local community and the local economy, tourists visiting the province should be assisted with appropriate directions to find tourist attractions easily. Good signage also assist in reducing crime against tourists as poor directional signs might lead to tourists falling prey to unscrupulous locals when asking for directions.
7.4 Limited Universal Access
The Committee observed appalling Universally Accessibility shortcomings in the province. This is happening despite national and international initiatives aimed at improving Universal Accessibility. The Committee acknowledges the National Minimum Standards for Responsible Tourism contained in SANS 1162 of 2011. The Committee also acknowledges that the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities broadly outlines and emphasizes the importance of Universal Accessibility. Article 9 states that persons with disabilities have a right to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life and that State parties should take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have equal access on an equal basis with others. The UN Convention Article 2 defines Universal Access as the design of products, environments, programmes and services to be usable by all persons to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation or specialised design, including assistive devices and technologies for particular groups of persons with disabilities where these are needed. Universal access means the removal of cultural, physical, social and other barriers that prevent people with disabilities from entering, using or benefiting from the various systems of society that are available to other citizens.
It was flagrantly evident that Free State province lacks far behind on national and international requirements for Universal Accessibility as the Chairperson of the Committee, being a disabled Member of Parliament confined to wheelchair, could not easily access most tourism products and attractions in the province. It was encouraging that the Chairperson used herself as an example to drive the message on the significance of Universal Accessibility to the provincial officials and the private sector.
7.5 Lack of political will amongst elected officials
The Committee observed that there was a lack of political will amongst the elected public officials on matters related to tourism in the province. This was evident from political office bearers who did not attend any of the stakeholder meetings. The stakeholders and municipal officials raised concerns about a lack of political will in prioritising tourism at a municipal level. Assertions were made that there are no political champions for tourism at a local level hence tourism is not budgeted for in various municipalities. Where budgets were available, they were so meagre that they did not achieve anything.
7.6 Unavailability of an Airlift Strategy
It was observed that the Free State province does not have am airlift strategy to boost arrivals in the province. The province is not doing well on both international and domestic arrivals and needs to devise strategies to attract more tourists. An airlift strategy is once such mechanism that can assist in that regard. The significance of destination air access and its relationship to the viability of the provincial tourism Industry cannot be over emphasised. The Free State province tourism industry could be improved if air transport is improved. This could enhance business and leisure tourism and improve tourism spend which will culminate in more socio-economic spin offs. Given the challenges of seasonality, domestic airlift could also assist in bring more domestic tourists from all over the country.
7.7 Unavailability of the events strategy
In the stakeholder engagements, the Committee learnt that Free State province has a number of cultural events organised and hosted by various communities throughout the province. These include the well-known events such as Mangaung Cultural festival known as Macufe and the Cherry festival, to smaller community events. However, the province has not developed a comprehensive events strategy that links these events to the domestic tourism product offering. This is seen as a huge strategic missed opportunity to enhance domestic tourism in the province. Consequently, the Province has a poor events calendar that is not regularly updated.
7.8 Grading of tourism establishments
The Committee learnt through stakeholder engagements that there are many tourism establishments that have not renewed their grading status but who continue to display star grading plaques. This is a fraudulent practice as it is illegal to mislead consumers through false marketing or advertising. The province alluded that this problem is exacerbated by the manner in which the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa is supporting grading in the province. The Master Accessor for Free State is based in the Northern Cape Province. This negatively affects the entire grading scheme in the province.
The greater concern to the Committee is that ineffective grading in the Free State Province may affect the entire destination South Africa as poor tourist experiences may be attributed to entire destination. This is a concern given the social platforms such as TripAdvisor being widely used by potential visitors to determine choice of destinations to visit.
7.9 Maintenance of tourist attractions
The Committee observed with concern that tourism attractions are not well maintained in the province. These include facilities at the Golden Gate National Park and heritage sites. Poor maintainace of tourism facilities is not conducive for destination South Africa as it discourages repeat visits and spreads a negative word of mouth, including in social media.
7.10 Tourism development issues at the Golden Gate National Park
The Committees observed that there are critical issues that need to be addressed at the Golden Gate National park. These include the lack of signage internally and externally; picnic sites need development and maintenance; affordability and access to the local communities needs to be improved; accommodation and visitor figures were not available and the Park must ensure they keep updated visitor figures; package and marketing of the Park should include the destination as a whole; the Committee would like to see the Service Level (SLA) amongst the stakeholders (Department of Tourism, SANParks and professional Service Providers); and there should be effective communication and liaison with the Municipality.
The issue of a provincial road that runs through the Park was also seen as tempering with the visitor experience. The Park management alluded that the visitors complain about the high noise levels from the cars passing through the road, especially at night. This dilutes the visitor experience as tourists go to the Park to experience the tranquillity of nature. The Park management therefore requested that the Committee advocates for the provincial road that runs through the Park to be closed. The Committee, however, observed that there are communities residing on the either side of the road and the road closure might create tensions between the local communities and the Park authorities.
After a careful analysis of the state of tourism in the Free State province and making insightful observations, the Committee recommends that the Minister of Tourism engages the MEC responsible for tourism in the Free State Province as follows:
8.1 Recommendations to the provincial Department:
8.1.1 The province should develop a Provincial Tourism Masterplan to provide a blueprint for a coordinated planning, development and marketing of the province.
8.1.2 The province should improve in the maintainace of tourist attractions to protect the brand, foster word of mouth marketing, and encourage repeat visitors.
8.1.3 The provincial Department of Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs should improve its working relationship with the Free State Tourism Authority to ensure coordinated and collaborative tourism development and marketing in the province.
8.1.4 The provincial Department should assist the district and local municipalities in establishing Local Tourism Associations as espoused in the National Tourism Sector Strategy.
8.1.5 The provincial Department should engage municipalities and the Department of Transport to deal with the signage challenges in the province.
8.1.6 The provincial Department should work closely with the National Department of Tourism and the private sector to improve Universal Accessibility throughout the province.
8.1.7 The province should champion prioritisation of tourism by local municipalities to foster and stimulate political will amongst political office bearers to unlock the full potential of the tourism sector at local level.
8.1.8 The province should develop an Airlift Strategy to improve arrivals.
8.1.9 The province should consider developing an Events Strategy and produce a frequently updated Events Calendar to boost domestic tourism.
8.2 Recommendations to Free State Tourism
8.2.1 Free State Tourism should revisit the five provincial routes and ascertain if they really make a good tourism sense that has an emotional appeal to potential tourists.
8.2.2 Free State Tourism should consider establishing a dinosaur route to link all the paleontological initiatives in the province, including the Vredefort Dome.
8.2.3 In the medium to long term, Free State Tourism should engage the City of Mangaung to explore possibilities of establishing a Conventions Bureau to bid for business tourism.
8.2.4 In the short term, Free State Tourism should consider establishing a Business Tourism Unit within to drive business tourism whilst exploring the long term objective of a fully-fledged Conventions Bureau.
8.2.5 Free State Tourism should consider establishing offices in other provinces to expand a marketing footprint that will attract more domestic tourists to the province.
8.2.6 The Free State Tourism Authority and the provincial Department should enter into partnerships with protected areas to explore the implementation of the PPP Toolkit for Tourism in establishing tourism products in protected areas.
8.3 Recommendations to the National Department of Tourism and South African Tourism
8.3.1 The National Department of Tourism should assist the Free State provincial Department to establish tourism institutional arrangements at a provincial and municipal levels.
8.3.2 The National Department of Tourism should customise the model adopted in implementing the Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge project to other failing Social Responsibility Implementation projects in the province.
8.3.3 South African Tourism should assist the Free State Province through the National Conventions Bureau to establish the Business Events Unit within Free State Tourism with an intention to harness the latent potential of the MICE industry.
8.3.4 The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa should improve its monitoring mechanisms on tourism establishments that continue to display star grading plaques even if they have not renewed their membership.
The Committee would like to thank the Office of the Premier in the Free State Province for organising venues for stakeholder engagements and mobilising tourism stakeholders to attend the stakeholder engagement sessions. Gratitude also goes to the office of the MEC and the provincial department as whole in proving necessary information and availing the officials who attended the entire oversight week with the Committee. The Committee also appreciates the good working relationship with the office of the Director-General in the National Department of Tourism who availed officials who provided clarity on the projects visited.
The oversight visit to the Free State Province was a huge success as it provided the Committee with invaluable insights into the state of tourism in the province. The Committee was generally concerned about the state of affairs in the province. The stakeholder engagements held in various locations within the province indicated that the sector is not well coordinated and there are capacity constraints at both provincial and municipality levels to drive inclusive tourism growth.
The major challenges facing the province are of a strategic nature as the province does not have a guiding Provincial Tourism Masterplan to provide a comprehensive strategic direction. The province has a huge untapped potential that is stifled by fragmented planning and coordination of tourism activities. There is a poor working relationship amongst the spheres of government and between the public sector and private sector in the province. The province is also not aligned to some national tourism imperatives, such as Universal Accessibility despite clear national guidelines.
Tourism is pitched at a directorate level in the province despite the Budget Structure agreed to with all provinces, that tourism should be at a chief directorate level in provinces. The MEC for the Department of Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs in the province has a huge task of ensuring that the tourism component in capacitated to deal with the tourism mandate. The National Department of Tourism should also provide more support to the Free State province, especially to provide strategic direction on a number of alignment and coordination aspects of tourism.
Report to be considered
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