South Africa might be the top destination in Africa for tourists around the world but there is growing concern over the country’s ability to keep their visitors safe.
The world is not blind to South Africa’s reputation as a crime haven where there have been several incidences of tourists being followed home from the country’s airports, and then robbed of their possessions and scores more incidents of petty theft around South Africa’s cities.
More distressing are the many high-profile cases where tourists have been murdered in the country.
One of the most recent of these cases involved the brutal death of Ukrainian tourist Ivan Ivanov, 44, last month.
Ivanov was fatally stabbed in the chest after a brief struggle for his backpack just 10m from exiting the hiking trail at East Fort on Chapman’s Peak Drive.
The government and law enforcement authorities are aware of the country’s notorious reputation abroad and have this week announced that various projects, which they deemed a matter of urgency, were under way to keep tourists safe.
The Department of Tourism admitted that South Africa has been perceived negatively abroad as a result of crime involving tourists and that this was causing a decline in tourism rates which generates millions of rand for the local economy.
In a desperate bid to clean up its image battered by criminals, the department insisted that it was working hard to keep tourists safe.
In order to do so, a multidisciplinary approach would be required where the tourism sector would work closely with law enforcement authorities and security services, communities and emergency services.
“We are confident that through endeavours by numerous partners, including community safety initiatives, we are working around the clock to initiate counter-measures in the immediate term as we consolidate our tourism safety strategy,” the department said.
“We are, as a country, fast-tracking the adoption as a matter of urgency practical measures to promote the safety and security of travellers and tourists.”
The department said it would also identify and analyse key tourism hot spots; establish a database of crime against tourists; and, enhance crime prevention initiatives.
They also plan to train tourism employees and private and public sector service personnel in their role as guardians responsible for protecting tourists, develop a partnership between the private and public sector in the facilitation of safety-conscious travel, and implement emergency services programmes for travellers.
There would also be an allocation of adequate resources to the courts, the police and public and private security forces for the protection of tourists.
Some of these strategies are already under way as Cape Town Tourism, in February, implemented its Tourism Safety Ambassador Programme in a bid to keep travellers safe from any unfortunate incident during their Cape Town visit.
This initiative involves unemployed youth and university students from disadvantaged communities on the Cape Flats and Bo-Kaap learning valuable skills to keep visitors safe.
Also in the Western Cape, a top tourism destination, it was announced last week that 120 extra “tourism monitors” were to be deployed to SANParks territories in the Cape region, including in the Table Mountain National Park.
The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association has welcomed the department’s plans and projects which seek to keep tourists safe.
But chief executive David Frost told The Saturday Star that any initiatives and strategies aimed to keep tourists safe, should be implemented swiftly and proactively.
He maintained that the perceptions of safety was one of the key drivers of tourists travelling to any destination in the world.
“It is inevitable that if travellers feel it is not safe to visit a destination, their decision to travel will be affected,” he added.
But Frost believes South Africa to possess a wide range of tourist attractions which continues to draw visitors to the country.
“South Africa enjoys a very high repeat rate of visitation, indicating that once travellers visit South Africa, they fall in love with the destination and are likely to recommend it to their friends and family, as well as visit again.”
Frost admitted that the tourism rate in South Africa wasn’t up to standard, but he insisted that crime in South Africa was not the only culprit for the dwindling numbers.
He listed the stringent visa requirements involving Unabridged Birth Certificate as another issue dampening tourism in the country, as well as South Africa being a long-haul destination as another.
“We also had the drought coverage which put a significant dampener on inbound tourism to the Western Cape over the past few years.”
Apart from the strategies announced by the Department of Tourism this week, Frost said that making tourists feel welcome when they visited the country would go a long way in increasing tourism in the country.
“What we would ask of our citizens is to take tourists under their wing and contribute to their experience in a meaningful way so that they return home and tell a positive South African story.
“The more tourists we have visiting, the more jobs we create and the greater contribution to South Africa’s economy, which benefits us all,” Frost said.