By: Sithembiso Dlamini, CEO of the Gauteng Tourism Authority.
Originally published by The Daily Maverick on 28 February 2023
What is Gauteng doing differently to indicate that it is open for visitors and that the tourism sector has a place in the economic recovery story of Gauteng?
In his recent State of the Province Address, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi emphasised the need for the province to accelerate its economic recovery and reconstruction plans. To achieve this, the province will need to create linkages across various high-impact economic sectors to ensure inclusive growth and sustainable economic recovery.
Given the context of the past two years that have left tourism businesses reeling from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the relentless load shedding, the question is: what is Gauteng doing differently to indicate that it is open for visitors and that the tourism sector has a place in the economic recovery story of Gauteng?
One of the low-hanging fruit for the province to take advantage of is its position as a gateway to investors and tourists into the African continent and sync its tourism, infrastructure, transport and SMME development plans in support of the province’s economic growth ambitions.
Ultimately, if Gauteng is to maintain its top spot as the preferred destination for business tourists into the African continent, every sector will need to contribute to making the visitors’ experience worthwhile. Disciplined execution that is well coordinated for the benefit of all economic sectors in the province will yield much more impact over the long term.
Several plans that have already been seeded by the Gauteng provincial government will need to kick into action concurrently. Furthermore, institutions like ours, the Gauteng Tourism Authority (GTA), will need to advocate for greater coordination to ensure that implementation is in line with the province’s vision of inclusive development, which relies on sound partnerships and using principles of social compacting.
This week, Gauteng will welcome business tourism delegates from across the globe for the Meetings Africa 2023 event, to be held from 28 February in Sandton. The province will have to work hard to dispel some of the concerns that will be raised by the discerning and highly competitive business tourism market. These include the high levels of crime and load shedding and the industry’s response to it.
A world-class experience
The Gauteng Tourism Authority, which is a partner to the event, will have to demonstrate its ability to mobilise stakeholders across sectors, in support of delivering a world-class experience for the business tourism market. Gauteng, which competes with other sought-after venues on the African continent, must put forward a compelling reason to choose Gauteng for their meetings, conferences and other business events.
To this end, the GTA has intensified its efforts to highlight the importance of linking activities across different sectors for the benefit of tourism businesses and entrepreneurs in the province by focusing on mobilising for greater air access on the continent. This initiative will be spearheaded by GTA and will highlight the role that it can play to position the Gauteng Air Access Network, a programme to mobilise key stakeholders behind the vision of a Gauteng region-wide air access network to retain and expand the destination’s air connectivity hub status. This is a great strategy that will ensure that all the roleplayers who contribute to air travel into South Africa are focused on one agenda.
The same initiative and thinking can be applied to the development of tourism SMMEs if, for example, a network is created across sectors to implement the Township Economic Development Act, in support of the province’s SMMEs support and growth goals.
The Gauteng Township Economic Development Act aims to revolutionise the way township small businesses are supported to access markets and raise funding. The bill enables the tourism sector, with its huge potential to grow SMMEs and contribute to job creation, to actively mobilise for greater cooperation with other key players.
An opportunity exists, for instance, to have sectors such as law enforcement, development finance institutions, the transport sector and sports, arts and culture engage and collaborate to find ways to create an enabling environment for dealing with pressing challenges affecting township SMMEs in Gauteng.
Gauteng’s unique destinations and attractions present a perfect backdrop for business travellers to stay a little longer and enjoy bespoke and memorable travel experiences.
The future we imagine for the Gauteng tourism sector is possible if we can pull together to ensure that visitors arrive in a province where they can access direct flights to any African city from Johannesburg, be enticed by the many vibrant township attractions to stay a little longer, and even take a leisurely drive, on well-maintained roads, to see the beautiful flow of the Vaal Dam as the sun sets over the Golden Province.
All this is possible if residents of Gauteng can witness and enjoy the success of the Reconstruction and Recovery Plan in the coming years. A revitalised Gauteng economy is good business for all.