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By Unathi Sonwabile Henema

The looting of shops and the shutdown of several central business districts in several South African cities has unleashed violence and the destruction of property. The normal functioning of several cities has been disturbed by these acts, as public transportation was disturbed and this had a negative impact on employee attendance, destroying value for the public and private sector.

The attacks on foreign nationals and their property are associated with xenophobia and opportunistic acts of crime. These acts of crime and violence are nothing short of being home-grown terrorism, and a form of economic crime. These acts have gained international attention and this had a detrimental impact on the brand image of destination South Africa. The brand image of a country is important in attracting investment and promoting tourism consumption.

Perception trumps reality

In a world where perception trumps reality, negative perception of a destination is detrimental for the visitor economy. The tourism industry is one industry that depends on a country’s brand image to achieve its growth and sustainability. South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and is a bucket list destination. Potential tourists to South Africa always details the immense beauty of our country, and further ask about safety within the same sentence.

Personal safety and security for tourists in South Africa is a challenge, that impacts on the competitiveness of South Africa negatively. The World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report under Safety and Security places South Africa at number 120 out of 136 countries, which means that safety for tourists is not guaranteed. Safety and security is supposed to be a dividend that is enjoyed by citizens and also tourists, and this is the responsibility of the state. Unfortunately, crime is rampant in South Africa, and it seems as if the only those perpetrators of crime who enjoy the fruits of our democracy.

Tourism has been a cinderella industry

Tourism is disproportionally important for the economy of South Africa, which is in a growth trap. Tourism since 1994, has been a cinderella industry, whose growth rate has always been higher than the GDP growth of the economy. Tourism has therefore rightfully been declared the new gold as it drives the economy of South Africa as gold did. The growth of tourism is associated with the growth in jobs, due to the labour-intensive nature of the tourism industry. Jobs growth is what South Africa needs, and the tourism industry creates the number of entry-level positions at the lowest cost.

The industry is able to assimilate labour that is both skilled and unskilled and is well-placed to mitigate the structural challenges facing South Africa, which includes the skills mismatch. The vast majority of tourists that visit South Africa are from the African continent, representing more than 60 percent of international tourists. In the latest ‘Tourism & Migration’ it’s revealed that in June 2019, there were 154 361 international tourists, compared to 578 783 tourists from the African continent.

Africa at the epicentre of SA’s tourism industry

The top 10 leading African inbound markets are represented by Zimbabwe at number 1 and Tanzania at number 10. The report further identified “other’” top leading inbound markets, which includes Nigeria (1), Kenya (2), Ghana (3) and Uganda (4). The report, therefore, paints a picture that the African continent is therefore the epicentre of our tourism industry. The acts of violence and xenophobia, therefore, threaten the tourism industry. African tourists travel to South Africa more frequently for shopping, healthcare, education, and visiting friends and relatives. Furthermore, research indicates that they are already outspending international tourists.

Acts of violence and crime against tourists were declared an economic crime by the joint sitting of the Portfolio Committee on Tourism and Police. This means that acts of violence and xenophobia are a form of economic crime because it threatens the ability of South Africa to attract tourists.

Unathi Sonwabile Henama is an academic sangoma teaching tourism at Tshwane University of Technology