Compared to the mid 1990’s the tourism industry in South Africa has exploded. In 2016 tourists arrivals to South Africa totalled around 1554048 people. The positive economic impact is undeniable considering that in 2014, 680 817 individuals were directly employed within the tourism sector (1 / 25 OR 4.5 % of the total workforce), resulting in a 3, 0% contribution to the economy, and foreign income which ensured a trade balance of R 38 311 million in 2014 (Tourism Satellite Account for South Africa – published by Statistics SA).
Despite for the fact that South Africa is deemed one of the most crime ridden countries across the globe, it is evident that it does not have a major effect on the decision making of the international tourist in setting out to visit our beautiful country with its diverse, and magnificent offer of attractions. Tourists are however not always adequately informed about the dangers that lurk underneath our lovely country’s exterior, and can easily fall victim to criminal elements preying on the their naivety. More than often tourists also expose themselves to situations where their safety and security are seriously compromised.
To protect our collective business and national economic interests, everyone working in -, or associated with the tourism industry has an obligation towards ensuring that our international guests’ stay in South Africa is pleasurable, carefree, and without incident thereby ensuring that they return to our shores again-and-again, and by word-of-mouth influence other people to do the same. As travel agents, tour operators, taxi drivers, hoteliers, tavern owners, government authorities, guest house managers, entrepreneurs, security services providers etc. are we however prepared to take on that immense responsibility?
As far as safety and security awareness is concerned my perception of the post-apartheid South African Tourism industry is that besides for its prosperous state, it is still a very young and inexperienced entity – in this regard the tendency is to adapt rather than to prepare, and therein lies one of our most fundamental weaknesses. To illustrate this point let us have a look at some recent examples e.g. the Terrorism scare in 2016 where international intelligence, and security agencies determined that there were a viable threat of ISIS attacks on major shopping centres across South Africa – bar the fact that it did not happen, how did we prepare for such an eventuality? Well for starters our government was very blasé about the fact, and embarrassed that our intelligence sources did not pick up on the fact, played it down completely. In reaction property management concerns scrambled to put preventative measures in place, and private security services providers were put under pressure to provide intelligent solutions. The effectiveness of those ‘’intelligent solutions’’ were never put to the test; but I can with conviction state that we would have seriously missed the goalpost should it have been tested because of the fact that little more effort was invested compared to normal day-to-day operation.
Turning our attention to OR Tambo International Airport and besides for the most recent, and utterly embarrassing incident – how often do we still hear of instances (widely reported in the media) of arriving tourists being followed and robbed of foreign currency and personal possessions? One would think that with the increased security effort this would have been clamped down dramatically but once again our government authorities e.g. SAPS and so called intelligence sources cannot seem to get it right.Security at well-known hotel groups in South Africa is not much better and although the widespread examples are considered not noteworthy enough to reach the press, there are many instances were international guests are targeted, and exploited within the very grounds of -, and in close vicinity of their accommodation.
When focussing on health and safety our performance is on the dismal side as well, and there are many service providers out there that are ignorant to the most basic application thereof. To illustrate this point I for instance dined at a restaurant (part of a well-known restaurant chain) the other evening where after a power outage the emergency power supply did not activate instantaneously, and as a result the smoke extractor system was not operable. Thick intoxicating smoke, and the sound of smoke alarms filled the air, and after about 10 minutes the management staff still did not have the slightest inclination as to the source of the problem. If not for my loud protests, and pointing out the obvious health and hazardous risk e.g. electrical fire to them, they would have not made any effort to evacuate the premises.
As previously pointed out we have an obligation to nurture this precious commodity called tourism, and by not applying sound safety and security practices we fail that task. So how do we go about raising consciousness, and alleviate the general witlessness around safety and security issues? With so many diverse role players the solution is unfortunately not that straight forward but let us focus on some basic principles that can be introduced to the business (regardless if your business depend on tourism or not):
- Ensure that you recruit wisely, and do proper pre-employment screening (inclusive of truth verification testing – an initiative that ought to be adapted throughout the employment life-cycle).
- Where you have a private security company employed entrusted with the security of your business take the time to re-assess their service offering – how prepared, and vigilant are they to combat security threats?
- Consider contracting a Close Protection Operator to accompany tour groups.
- In addition to your emergency plan develop a travel safety and security plan.
- Invest in a fully-fledged (preferably independent) physical risk survey of your business offered by a reputable analyst.
- Keep abreast of crime trends and developments within the area from where your business premises is situated – advice visitors accordingly e.g. against using road transit other that prescribed services (Uber), or visiting unsafe locations.
- Regardless of the prescribed training / representation ratios (Occupational Health and Safety Act) invest in training employees within emergency functionalities e.g. Evacuation Coordination, Fire Fighting, First Aid, Health and Safety Representation.
- Stage regular evacuation exercises (but do not limit it to only fire drills).
- Depending on the cultural diversity of your most frequent visitors from abroad consider translating your published safety and security measures to other languages as well e.g. Chinese, Spanish, German etc. and ensure that it is part of the welcome package a guest receives.
- In areas where muggings are prevalent advice tourists to rather adapt a minimalist approach when it comes to wearing jewellery, carrying handbags and valuables.
- Ensure that the provision of lock-up / safekeeping offerings are beyond reproach.
- Do regular safety and security briefings with your staff to increase awareness.
- There are limits to providing a friendly, and all-inclusive service – do not encourage exposing tourists to prostitution, drug dealing etc.
The alternative is to throw all ethic aside and carry on reaping the benefit from tourism without any return investment into the associated safety and security aspects whatsoever; but business owners that subscribe to this ill-advised practice might find themselves clasping only the crumbs of the tourism pie (having exposed themselves to massive reputational damage, scrutiny from authorities, and financial loss).