The African National Congress had hosted its National Policy Conference in Nasrec from the 30th June-05 July 2017. This national discourse has been dominated by the robust discussions and a surprising obsession with the term of white monopoly capital (WMC). What has not captured the national attention, is that the thousands of delegates that descended upon Nasrec, represent domestic tourists.
The delegates were joined by non-voting delegates that included National Members of Parliament, Provincial Members of Parliament, Veterans, Ministers, Premiers and members of several ANC sub-committees. Observers to the NPC included COSATU, SACP, SANCO, COSAS, and SASCO. The NPC guests ranged from members of the diplomatic community and political friends of the ANC from near and far, that came to grace the event.
The ANC delegates would consume a multiplicity of products and services ranging from accommodation, food and beverages, transportation, and engage in the mandatory therapy associated with shopping.
Benefits to the night time economy
The ANC remains a mass democratic movement, which attracts supporters when it hosts events. In addition, the Night Time Economy, which is basically a 24-hour economy located around bars, pubs, clubs, and places of entertainment creates thousands of jobs and is a key driver of expenditure in cities.
The NTE would have benefitted immensely from ANC delegates, as they would engage each other in the Battle of Ideas, outside of the conference venue. ANC delegates are known for their patriotic expenditure at places of the NTE, running bills that ensure that the imminent shedding of jobs in such establishments, is curtailed.
The importance of the NPC can be reflected by the fact that it coincided with the Durban July, robbing the Indian Ocean coastal city of Durban, ANC delegates and their expenditure. The greater Johannesburg economy benefited from the expenditure that occurred in the extended NPC, which was for six days, an economic bonanza for the Gauteng economy.
Scope of event tourism
The NPC falls within the definition of event tourism, which includes conferences, conventions, and symposiums. Domestic tourism continues to receive less attention than the more glamorous international tourism, but in almost all destination, domestic tourism remains robust and dominating the majority of tourism trips.
Statistics South Africa which released the Domestic Tourism Survey 2015, noted that domestic tourism declined between 2013 and 2015 with the total number of day trips decreasing from 54,4 million in 2013 to 48 million in 2014 and 44 million in 2015. However, despite the downward trend, the total expenditure on day trips increased from R35 billion in 2013 to R39 billion in 2014.
Domestic tourism is a function of economic growth and employment, and the South African economy has been bleeding jobs and experiencing a growth trap. The problems of South Africa are much greater when you consider that the skills mismatch means that millions will remain unemployed because they have skills not required by the economy.
The increase in the unemployment rate recently should not be a surprise because of the investment strike by the private sector, sitting on more than R800 billion in their bank accounts.
Global economy shifted emphasis to services sector
The loss of jobs in mining has destroyed the economies of several mining towns, leading to lawlessness associated with the emergence of zama-zama’s who run a multi-million rand illegal mining operation.
Tourism in these times of doom and gloom has remained robust, with year-on-year growth at 13%, considering that the SA economy would not see 1% growth. The global economy has moved from a commodities (mining, agriculture) consumption to a consumption economy led by services such as banking, and tourism.
As South Africa continues to be unprepared for the implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, tourism is possibly the sector that would remain labour-absorbing because of its labour intensive nature. The state continues to invest as little as possible on tourism, instead focusing too much energy on mining, agriculture, and manufacturing.
Tourism remains underfunded but continues to inspire with growth that creates jobs. The Department of Home Affairs remains an enemy of international tourism growth because of an obsession with visas. As more countries become visa friends to attract tourism and drive mobility for commerce and business, Africa is lagging behind.
The Department of Transportation is an enemy of tourism because of limited international flights to South Africa, which make limits aviation capacity and lower prices. The consequence is 13% tourism growth instead of 100% tourism growth, and this means that addressing monopoly poverty and inequality in the lives of South Africans is a dream deferred.
Our people are not interested in WMC, their tragedy is inter-generational poverty, unemployment and lack of assets, a lifetime defined by a lack of freedom because of lack of having, or ownership.
Author: Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity.