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Government’s red tape causing more damage to tourism in SA

Satsa has called on the Presidency’s Red Tape team to urgently step in and declare an immediate moratorium.

Satsa has called on the Presidency’s Red Tape team to urgently step in and declare an immediate moratorium.

Published Jun 23, 2022

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As the tourism industry in South Africa continues to pick up the pieces after the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, red tape from the South African government is now seen as another hurdle standing in its way from getting back on its feet.

This comes after it was revealed today that hundreds of new and existing tour operators are unable to work, or are being forced to do so illegally, as the National Public Transport Regulator (NPTR), which issues tourism transport licences, is not functioning as intended.

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The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) called on the Presidency’s Red Tape team to urgently step in and declare an immediate moratorium on new and renewal applications for accreditation, operating licences and permits, pending the resolution of the current impasse, as well as to appoint a task team to relook at regulation of tourism vehicles, and implement solutions at the NPTR.

In order to perform their work, tour operators require accreditation to provide tourist transport services.

The current law prescribes that operating licences for tourist vehicles be issued by the NPTR (that falls under the Department of Transport), within 60 days for new operators and within a day for accredited operators.

During a virtual media briefing today, Satsa said, “Systemic failure of the NPTR’s licence system began over five years ago, and for most of the last two and a half years, there has been no Board at the NPTR at all. Despite Satsa writing to both the Ministers of Transport and Tourism, and after numerous engagements with the regulator and a host of technocrats within both departments, the government is yet to resolve this bureaucratic disaster.”

The tourism sector generates 10 percent of South Africa’s gross domestic product, is the lifeblood of the economy and creates job opportunities for more than 1.5 million people - many of whom are women and youth from rural communities.

Tour operators play a vital role in the tourism sector, they safely transport tourists; take them on tours; act as the conduit for State revenue in respect of entrance fees to national interest points; promote and facilitate income for local hospitality, restaurants and a multitude of micro-entrepreneurs within communities; are employers in an economically-critical sector; and importantly, play a pivotal role as ambassadors for South Africa.

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Watch tour operator Khotso Michau explain the challenges he faced below:

Speaking at a briefing today, Oupa Pilane, the deputy chairperson of Satsa, said: “This is not a new problem, but it is now a crisis, which requires urgent intervention by our government. Post-pandemic, tourism companies are already in financial crisis but are unable to recover because hundreds of vehicles are stranded without operating licences. Many of those who do continue to operate without valid licences are being pulled over by SA Police Service and traffic officials who impound the vehicles, leaving tourists stranded on the side of the road.

“This is quite simply untenable. We understand that after two years of no NPTR board at all, an interim board has been appointed, but it will take months to get up to speed and to begin to address the backlog before it is able to follow the law in respect of the process and timing of licensing. What’s more is that early indications show that the new Board is perpetuating the failures of the old board, a mistake that this country and sector simply cannot afford. This is why we are calling for an urgent moratorium on new and renewal applications for accreditation, operating licences and permits, while the government gets its house in order.”

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Economic and reputational damage to tourism industry

David Frost, the CEO of Satsa, explained that the licensing paralysis was causing severe economic and reputational damage to the tourism industry as it was inhibiting the growth and job creation of small, medium, and large enterprises. It was also resulting in business closures and job losses.

Many of the close to 1000 applications that have stalled at the NPTR are from SMEs and black-owned businesses. In turn, it has an increasingly negative impact on the sustainability of tourism in South Africa and the wider South African economy.

“The tourism industry is fully supportive of a system that ensures that compliant organisations are running fit and proper vehicles, as this is critical in maintaining and enhancing South Africa’s reputation as a tourism destination. Tourism vehicle operators are trying to follow the process but cannot obtain licences timeously and even worse, over the past two years, not at all. This results in an inability to invest in fleets.

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“Tour operators own assets that cannot generate income but carry expenses. They cannot hire additional staff because vehicles can’t operate. Instead of running and growing their businesses, they are spending time dealing with red tape. Some are being forced to operate illegally, resulting in vehicles with tourists onboard being impounded by traffic officers. Worse still, is that businesses are closing, and jobs are being lost,” said Frost.

Onne Vegter, the chairperson of Satsa Board Transport Committee and a specialist tour operator that operates across South Africa, said: “We bought new vehicles three years ago and have been unable to use them, because we are still waiting on the NPTR to issue our operating licences. We are fully accredited. Our applications were complete and correct. Each stranded vehicle costs us at least R8 000 per month in repayments, maintenance and insurance, and far more than that in lost revenue. The damage is enormous. We have lost millions as a direct result of the NPTR.”

Speaking about the recent developments on Covid health regulations in South Africa, Vegter said the industry needed the regulations to be scrapped.

“The tourism industry was devastated by the pandemic. We need to have our vehicles back on the roads. We are falling behind with the regulations and red tape that are in place in South Africa, while the rest of the world is lifting regulations.”

Frost said the government needed to do its job so that the tourism industry could do theirs, and in turn, create jobs within the sector and assist the economy.

Frost further said, “Around the world you see countries doing all they can to assist and help their tourism sectors, while in South Africa, this is not the case. Tourists come to South Africa because they wish to see the richness of the country, and in order for them to do that, we need to get them on our roads. The sector is well placed to create jobs in the country as well.”

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