A new by-law dealing with tourism in Plettenberg Bay has angered residents and tourism business owners. Inset: Plett Tourism chairperson Peter Wallington. Pictures: Ewald Stander
A new proposed tourism by-law, which could see the Bitou Municipality largely control tourism in Plettenberg Bay, has sparked a furore among residents and tourism business owners who fear the coastal holiday town’s economy - which is heavily reliant on tourism - will suffer.

Among the most controversial issues that have angered locals are the establishment of a new tourism board, the composition of the board which leaves the decision-making largely in the hands of the municipality, the registration of tourism businesses with a tourism organisation, and subsequent “fees, charges and tariffs” payable. There is also a penalties clause which includes fines or jail time for those who do not comply.

One of the most contentious issues is that the burden of these “fees” would be carried by tourists, sparking fears that the industry would then become less competitive.

The proposed by-law is open for public comment until June 8 but has already seen massive opposition, including a petition which has been signed by more than 2000 locals so far.

“Tourism is the lifeblood of our town and tampering with this vital economic driver could spell disaster for Plett,” resident Joanne Barrett said. She has been campaigning for the town’s tourism body to remain independent.

According to the draft, the by-law is designed to “administer its (the municipality’s) executive authority in respect of local tourism-related matters to regulate the involvement of the community in the effective administration of local tourism”.

“This by-law was drafted without any input from Plett Tourism or the Plett Accommodation Association - both with substantial member numbers. This is bad news.”

Municipal spokesperson Manfred van Rooyen said the aim of the by-law was not a “mobilisation to collapse Plett Tourism”, but it had been drafted, against the background of constitutional and applicable legislative prescripts, to establish a tourism service utility that would assist in the execution of the municipality’s tourism mandate and the development of local tourism.

The draft by-law suggests a tourism board be established and consist of a representative of the municipal council, nominated by the mayor to serve as the chairperson; an official of the municipality designated by the municipal manager; a representative of the Plett Tourism Association nominated by the association; and nominated representatives of the community.

“The board member allocation is simply unacceptable and is clearly only benefiting a select few municipal officials.

“We need people from a tourism and marketing background, the business chamber, restaurants, hotels and other establishments on the board, people who are part of the community and who have the required tourism experience,” Barrett said.

The draft by-law proposes that the board be responsible for, among others, advising the municipality on the establishment, maintenance and upgrade of tourist facilities, the marketing of Bitou as a tourist destination and the charging of fees, charges or tariffs to fund a “tourism fund”.

It is these “fees, charges or tariffs” that have also struck a nerve with locals. The by-law suggests that these charges be imposed on visitors making use of tourist facilities.

“Some of the feedback I’ve had from the community includes criticism of these fees. Residents and business owners feel that this will make Plett less desirable and less competitive. In this day and age, where everyone is trying to tighten their belts when it comes to spending, especially on holidays, it puts Plett at a disadvantage,” Barrett said.

All tourism establishments will also be required to become a member of a municipal-accredited tourism organisation. The tourism organisations will then have to collect these fees, charges or tariffs from the establishments and pay the funds over to the municipality.

It is unclear which tourism organisations will be accredited and what the accreditation requirements are.

Other clauses that have sparked an outcry include a search-and-seizure clause as well as a penalties clause - which includes fines and even imprisonment - for those who do not comply with the provisions of the by-law.

Plett Tourism chairperson Peter Wallington said they would be submitting a formal response shortly and were engaging with political, business and tourism stakeholders.

“We are confident that the correct solution will be reached,” Wallington said. He has urged all who have an interest in tourism and Plett’s future to submit their views. He added that proposed tourism by-laws ignored the brand building work done by Plett Tourism over the past five years.

They opposed several aspects of the proposed by-law, including the fact that the municipality would control tourism, appoint a board and chairperson. The proposed by-law would see the board determine the budget and the priority of spend.

Wallington said the by-law also seemed to suggest that the municipality would in any case not be bound by advice from the board or board members and no reporting mechanism would be in place.

He said they also opposed compulsory fees, charges or tariffs to fund projects determined by the municipality, but supported the principle of a funding mechanism for tourism for projects.

Wallington added that the by-law was silent on Plett Tourism’s role and who would do the work of destination marketing. He said the search-and-seizure clause and the fines and jail terms for those who are non-compliant needed to be removed.

“The tourism function was in-house in the past and did not work. Tourism was at an all-time low. Five years later, tourism is no longer as seasonal as it used to be. Tourists visit throughout the year - that is a result of the work Plett Tourism has done,” Barrett said.