It is hard to imagine that we are already on the second half of 2015. Once again, this will be another record breaking year of unprecedented “tourism” challenges; From Greece to Tunisia, Nepal to South Africa, and so many tourism nations in between, a year again in which millions of people have seen significant disruptions in their ability of attract tourists.

I am acutely interested of the benefits that tourism brings nations. This sector not only keeps economies strong, but also affects a country’s spirit and social fabric too. It is therefore particularly painful when a nation’s tourism sector goes awry. Whether it is Greece losing tourists as Grexit debates cause uncertainty around the islands being open for business, Tunisia’s tourists fleeing from tragedy brought on by terrorizing acts of man, Mother Nature acts of unnatural awe causing Nepal’s tourism sector to tumble to the ground, or South Africa sending its tourism sector into free-fall with poorly thought through new visitor entry regulations, the list of tourism economy casualties grows.

Consequently, you can understand my intrigue, when I recently read that Britain’s Prime Minister Cameron was focusing on, and made a personal commitment to, embedding the United Kingdom as a truly ‘GREAT’ place to visit.

GETTY IMAGEIn what is described as an ‘unequivocal statement of support’, the Prime Minister singled out the need to ensure that Tourism – an industry generating 9% of GDP, 1 in 10 British jobs, and a GVA multiplier of 2.8 (for every £1,000 spent a further £1,800 is generated through the supply chain and consumer spending) with the over 34 million international visitors that travel to and within Great Britain each year – remains on a strong, steady growth trajectory.

But my interest increased when I read that he was looking to do more than just simply say the right things. Prime Minister Cameron is in fact putting his words into action.

How? He is creating an inter-ministerial group focused on ensuring that the doors, essential to tourism invitation and implementation, are wide open. Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has been appointed as the champion of this “great” effort for Great Britain’s tourism growth and leadership, tasked with bringing together all key public and private sector players together with a goal of inspiring travellers to easily and meaningfully explore all that Britain has to offer.

What they see is that tourism greatness in Great Britain, true greatness, is not about logos and GREAT campaigns. It is about working hand-in-hand with a sector that will have the greatest impact on the lives of their people.

The holistic thinking around this initiative is what gives me a sense of confidence that Prime Minister Cameron’s vision will come to life, and we will see more travellers visiting United Kingdom in the years to come. I think they get it: tourism growth does not occur by coincidence it requires an understanding of the vastness of the competitive environment, and defining the national tourism “product” and brand image. I believe that this approach will ensure that the tourism sector:

  1. Becomes a better co-ordinated sector
  2. Aligns private sector investments with established priorities
  3. Builds skills and jobs to meet the needs of the sector
  4. Emphasises common sense regulation
  5. Prioritises investment in transport and tourism-related infrastructure
  6. Embraces all of the above with an improved welcome, by all local destinations across the nation.

It is early days, but this common sense approach to tourism development, if actioned, will be more than just a boost to tourism in one of our key markets. It has the opportunity to become example of best-practice that other nations could, and must learn from.



SA wildlifeSouth Africa is one of the most unique and remarkable destinations to visit in the world. It moves visitors in so many ways with its natural beauty, the wildlife, its history, the people and the food.

Tourism is therefore fittingly an important element to the economic and social growth and development of the nation as a whole, contributing approximately 10% (directly + indirectly) to the country’s GDP and employing 1 in 10 South Africans.

Despite this, the Government of South Africa has remarkably and irresponsibly formed new laws, which will deter tourism, with total disregard to their consequence and without dialogue with the industry. For those unaware, in the latter part of 2014 the South African Department of Home Affairs imposed new entry regulations for visitors into South Africa:

  1. A requirement for children under 18 to carry copies of an UNABRIDGED BIRTH CERTIFICATES,
  2. The requirement of all prospective applicants in source markets (China and India) requiring a visa to travel to South Africa, to appear in-person to capture BIOMETRIC DATA.

Why the new, now in effect, regulations? The Ministry of Home Affairs is seeking to aggressively tackle issues around human trafficking, particularly of children. South African borders are seen to be porous, and imposing stricter entry regulations are believed by the Dept. of Home Affairs to be a ways of arresting, literally and figuratively, this social ailment.

Bones in Africa As important and as well intended as the new regulations may be, the fact is this: human trafficking and tourism have nothing to do with one another, and the blocking of entry of tourists is going to do nothing to curb human trafficking. All it will do is cut off the oxygen of the nation’s vital tourism industry – an industry that one in ten South Africans rely on for the livelihoods and the wellbeing of their families.

Here are the facts that, sadly, the Ministry of Home Affairs failed to grasp when imposing the new regulations:

  • South Africa is a nation working tirelessly to stimulate and sustain job creation, SME opportunity, national unity and productivity, not to mention national competitiveness
  • Tourism has become a vital source of jobs: as I said earlier, 1 in 10 South Africans is employed through tourism, with the sector exceeding earnings of the country’s traditional lead sector, gold
  • Visa and immigration policies are amongst the most important government policies that can influence international tourism.
  • While the new regulations only came into effect 1st June 2015, the damage is long-done to visitation numbers, national image, and attractiveness of the destination. Booking periods into 2016 are seeing painful losses.
  • Simply blocking tourism flows through increased regulations is not a solution!

And yet, despite the above and significant efforts by global tourism authorities such as the UNWTO and WTTC, along with international airlines and tour operators, to reconsider the regulations, almost a month since implemented, inertia remains. In fact, much to my surprise, I just heard that there isn’t even any tracking being done of trafficking numbers to determine if the new Tourism regulations are having an impact.  These means Home Affairs can and will continue to penalise Tourism for trafficking based on hypothesis of correlation, absent of any hard data to show a direct relationship between trafficking and tourism.

Interestingly, as we well know, travel today is a given and if South Africa becomes too hard a destination to visit, which it is now proving to be, all that the Government is doing is opening the door for other tourism nations to grow as a result of its decline.

Cases in point: India. Since the subcontinent’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, took office, profound changes have occurred in the nation’s tourism policies. Why? Because the new Prime Minister recognises the tourism sector as the panacea for a myriad of the nation’s ailments – inclusivity, investment, opportunity, economic advancement, identity and competitiveness. Prime Minister Modi has not just walked the talk, he has sprinted it, taking such dramatic actions as offering e-Visas to a total of 150 nations across the globe (issued within 24 hours), a dramatic rise from the pre-​Prime Minister Modi list of 34 countries.  The impact – an overwhelming 1024% increase in travellers in the first 5 months of 2015.

Australia and the US have seen similar upswing in tourism arrivals from key source markets such as China and India – the exact markets that South Africa has imposed biometric testing on before visas will be granted. From the 18th June, Australia now allows Chinese visitors to now qualify for 10-year visas. This was reported as a “tourism breakthrough”. To date they have seen Chinese and Indian inbound grow by 18% and 30% respectively.

GT SA As a point of reference, Thompsons Travel (which is probably South Africans largest inbound operator – I am Chairman of their parent Company) has, during the January to May 2015 versus the same period in 2014, seen painful decreases of 53% from Chinese and down 54% from Indian travellers.  Forward bookings look to maintain the grim rate of decline.

Are these tourists going elsewhere? Absolutely. Mauritius for the same period saw their inbound China and India tourists increase by 26.6% and 24.3% respectively.

Bottom line, the relaxing of visa regulations is not about eliminating of security measures; quite the contrary. All it means is ensuring governments acquire appropriate information before traveller entry and they need to take care in making their visa acquisitions uncomplicated. There are ways of strengthening our borders in tandem to simplifying our visa procedures.  Our competitors are clearly getting this win: win approach right.

To attack well-intended tourists, travelling in many cases thousands of miles to spend their time and money in a country, is to attack the major artery of the future of a nation. In the case of South Africa, with its new regulations shutting the door to visitors, this is taking the welcome mat away from my home, and this is simply unforgivable.

Destination USA – Leading By Example

Every once in a while – a rare occurrence as of late, but it does happen – a powerful leader exercises authority by acting with incredible humility, expressing genuine desire to learn more about an issue that is growing in importance. Such a period of learning has taken place, surprisingly, in a nation historically not known for humility – the United States of America. The issue: the value of the Tourism industry to American jobs, earnings and general wellbeing.

Trafalgar USA It all started with a flippant statement made by President Obama in 2009 at the beginning of the global economic crisis. His comment was targeted at Watt Street bankers hosting expensive conferences in Las Vegas while Main Street citizens were losing their jobs and pensions. That relatively simple comment opened up a complex process of presidential ‘re-education’, with leaders of American travel companies and associations descending on the White House, united by the US Travel Association, to set the record straight: travel, conferences and holidays create American jobs, fuel the American economy, and strengthen American competitiveness. Travel is exactly what America, and Americans need to get the economy moving again. With one of the most sought after, diverse, naturally, historically and culturally rich destinations of travellers worldwide, the United States of America has an asset that must be put to work.Since then, and to his credit, the President has taken concrete, confident steps to put travel and tourism at the centre of the American economy. Major national initiatives, from the relaunch of Brand USA (first time all states have come together with one voice), the passing of a bill regarding step-changing visa facilitation, creation of ESTA (tourist tax), increasing Consulates to issue more Visa’s in China and now the recently launched National Travel and Tourism Strategy, Significant, strategic, steps of substance which will transform the national tourism industry, quickly.As recently expressed in a White House bulletin,: “Last year, 62 million international tourists visited the United States and pumped a record $153 billion into local economies, helping to support the 7.6 million jobs in our travel and tourism industry. These numbers make tourism America’s number one service export.”

Clearly the President ‘gets it’, and is focused on getting the industry working harder, smarter, stronger, together.

I am in fact currently travelling in the Unites Sates, on Trafalgar’s Historic Highlights. I am writing from the Nation’s Capital this morning – having spent yesterday with my fellow travellers awed by the beauty of the city, poignancy of its monuments and rich history. Speaking of which we leave for Mount Vernon, George Washington’s historic estate this morning.

The global tourism community needs to take notice of this important act of leadership. Through concrete steps, the USA has ensured that it will break through destiantional clutter and showcase itself. And in doing so, positioned itself as one of the world’s loudest champions of the travel and tourism sector.

And now destination competitors!

Travel Should Be Thanked, Not Taxed

TaxesWith the world still moving from one economic crisis to the next and what appear to be no short or even medium term hope of the fundamentals changing, almost without exception, governments worldwide are becoming desperate to find ways of cutting spending and increasing revenues. Some of the their initiatives are long over due as well as some changes are for the better. Some however are ill conceived and are only going to have long term negative impacts of economies. This is especially true when it comes to the travel sector.

Those of us in the industry know well the incredible value and enjoyment that travel brings – the opportunity to discover all of the beauty, learning, meaning and fun that the world has to offer.  However what our governments often forget is that the travel industry is also responsible for millions of jobs, billions in investment, and trillions in revenues.

Travel - Rio Brazil

“Those of us in the industry know well the incredible value and enjoyment that travel brings…”

Sadly, the hard, quantitative, comprehensive value of our industry is not only being overlooked by government leaders – it is in fact being worked against. The travel industry has become an easy target for new government taxes. This because despite our size, we do not act with a collective voice and those who frequently are taxed are not local residents but the international traveller. This is shortsighted, as the impact is decreased demand.

Travellers in the UK and Euro-zone already know this painful reality all too well. The creation of new charges being applied onto travel such as APD (Air Passenger Duty), ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme), local room taxes and entry visas to name just a few of the most recent, are already acting as an increasing deterrent to travelers. Many travelers are either deciding to go elsewhere or finding they simply cannot afford to take the holiday they have always dreamt of.

Governments need to recognize that they cannot afford for travelers not to travel to their Country. It’s not about governments supporting a sector of the economy that promotes rest and play. It is about governments supporting an industry that keeps people working, keeps investors investing, and keeps visitors spending. Focus of government needs to shift. Industries that work to create jobs, investment, earnings and goodwill, need to be thanked, not taxed. Credit where it is due.