Last year, the world faced the Covid 19 pandemic with horror and we made unprecedented changes to the way that we worked, lived and played. And Tourism was among the first and hardest-hit sectors prompting some innovative work around the globe by the private sector to develop and implement protocols to ensure safer operating conditions for guests and staff.
Within a month of the first case in South Africa - and the subsequent lockdown, CoronaSmart introduced its standard for the tourism sector based on best practice in the hospitality, tourism and food service industries locally and internationally. This was followed later by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) releasing their comprehensive COVID Protocols and even later, by organisations such as the Restaurant Association and Fedhasa. Within three months of the lockdown, the tourism industry in South Africa had implemented these standards and protocols - or brand-specific alternatives, and was already committed to ensuring self-monitoring and strict compliance in an effort to get the lockdown lifted.
And what did the Department of Tourism or the Minister do at that stage? Absolutely nothing - other than to create obstacles and watch the destruction of a once highly-prosperous and active industry. Little or no effort was made to either support businesses in crisis - other than offering a paltry 500 million Rands financial band-aid for business that complied with the patently discriminatory requirements, and offering pathetic 'sushing' noises to placate empty promises. In fact, they looked-upon the lockdown as a holiday during which they - all their employees and the employees of various national and provincial tourism authorities, received full salaries and benefits as the industry workforce and infrastructure collapsed and people went hungry.
So it was with shock to read that this week, our esteemed Minister for Tourism has issued a set of draft regulations to control the industry and minimise COVID related infections 300 days after the original shutdown. What makes it worse, is that the regulations are nothing more than a sanitised version of the TBCSA, CoronaSmart and other existing and published standards, guidelines and protocols that have been adopted voluntarily by the industry for the past year. In all this time, the industry has largely policed itself and managed to adhere to the various private sector initiatives - largely without the need for government intervention, but that doesn't seem to matter to our glorious 'leaders' and their Mandarins.
In an almost pathetic attempt to be seen to have been doing something to earn their salaries and benefits, some bright spark in the Department sat down and decided that an industry that is already on its knees needed a set of prescriptive regulations for something they were already doing voluntarily. Over-and-above the already draconian National Disaster Act conditions under which the industry is buckling, the Minister believes she still needs to have these regulations to look important and efficient - once again bypassing the initiatives of the private sector and the patently obvious commitment of the industry itself. Added to this, she obviously believes the State has the ability and resources to monitor compliance with the regulations - what a joke! We've all seen that the Police are too busy chasing surfers to catch real criminals or monitor a mountain of regulations ranging from the Liquor Act to border control, so who is going to do this monitoring function?
One thing that we have learnt as South Africans since COVID, is that we are not gifted with the brightest or most qualified government officials and that the gravy train has just got longer and slower. But this move by the Minister takes the cake for arrogance and sheer stupidity at a time that her and her minions should be focused on ways to make every effort to ease the pain and avoid the certain death of tourism and hospitality in this country. I would ask 'what was were they thinking' but that would be too easy because we know that neither this cadre or her staff have had an original thought or achieved the slightest understanding of the tourism portfolio in the past twenty years. Again, the work of the private sector - and the sacrifices, gains and achievements that have been made in the past year under enormous difficulties, are simply brushed-aside by these patently incompetent clowns.
Its time for the leaders in the tourism sector to tell the Minister and the Department to take a flying jump, but that probably won't happen. Nice thought though!