CRIME SCENE: Screens were placed around the scene of the shooting at Cape Town International Airport last week. Picture: Tracey Adams/ANA
The tragic shooting that occurred at the Cape Town International Airport last week occurred at the worst time for South African tourism. 
This occurred before the festive season, and may lead to cancelled holidays, thus damaging tourism. Tourism is very sensitive to tragic events as tourists choose destinations where their personal safety and security is guaranteed.

The Planet Hollywood bombing at the V&A Waterfront (in the late 1990s) impacted negatively on tourist arrivals. The recent shooting at the Cape Town International Airport should be regarded as an act of home-grown terrorism - a form of economic espionage against the economy, as tourism sustains an economy that finds itself in a growth trap.

Without tourism growth, more South Africans would be unemployed and this means more poverty. Poverty and unemployment are the worst un-freedoms that dehumanise the lives of the majority of South Africans.

The shooting at the airport attacks the tourism industry, which has been at the forefront of creating labour-intensive jobs that have restored human dignity through jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurship.

The airport shooting occurred after the minister of tourism had launched the Tourism Monitors Programme in Soweto, to improve safety and security around tourism zones. Any initiative that seeks to improve safety and security must be encouraged, especially during these times of doom and gloom.

The Tourism Monitors Programme was launched because crime’s unquenchable thirst was now an uncontrollable predator. OR Tambo International Airport has become a tourism crime hot-spot, and the minister of police has tried his level best to bring about change. The syndicates that operate around OR Tambo have mastered the art of criminal intent, by following coach-loads of tour groups and then applying tsotsi entrepreneurship to their possessions.

The result was that a group of 36 Dutch tourists were hijacked and robbed, and then abandoned their holiday plans. Those Dutch tourists had planned to spend three weeks in this country, and you can imagine the financial expenditure that South Africa has lost.

The minister of tourism had to abandon the annual Tourism Lecture in Nelspruit and rush to Johannesburg to see the Dutch tourists, with the minister of police, to try to salvage the situation. Research proves that for every eight international tourists that visit South Africa, one permanent job is created.

It is worth noting that international tourism arrivals increased by 13% year-on-year in 2016, and this means that international tourism is becoming increasingly important.

Domestic tourism has seen a dip because of the poor economic conditions that are prevalent in South Africa, as South Africans took fewer trips. What is without doubt is that it will get worse before it gets better.

We must, therefore, ensure that international tourism gets dedicated attention. Tourism is the most important economic sector in South Africa and it’s called the “new gold” because it sustains our economy, replacing gold.

When gold mining sheds jobs, tourism continues to create thousands of jobs. When mining disinvestment becomes the order of the day, tourism investments rise.

If tourism is as significant as gold, then the state must be at the forefront in trying to protect, and preserve, this economic sector.

Because tourism is a service experience delivered across various government departments, it requires close co-operation.

The recent Dutch tourist hijacking showed how collaboration between government departments can be a force for good.

The year 2016 was synonymous with the visa regulations which led to inter-governmental conflict between the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Tourism.

The creation of the Inter-Ministerial Committee was the solution that created sanity, which was a win-win for all.

The launch of the Tourism Monitors Programme should be regarded as a means, and not an end, in fighting tourism crime.

There is a need for a dedicated tourism police force, and we can learn from the Seychelles which has a dedicated tourism police force.

Tourism safety would actually benefit locals though increased police visibility, which would increase the quality of life of South Africans. Crime is the biggest post-1994 dividend that has imprisoned South Africans and tourists.

The attacks and hijackings experienced by tourists are a reflection of the daily reality of South Africans.

There is no time to waste time in fighting crime. If we continue to have a laissez-faire attitude to crime fighting, then the tourists will choose other destinations and we will lose the developmental benefits of tourism.

Tourism has the potential to wipe out the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality if it gets government support. The government can start by ensuring that crime is eliminated, ensuring that criminals have no place to hide in our society.

* Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at the Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Argus