‘Tourism can improve GDP’ – Newmark Hotels

‘SA has scored number of own goals, of which the visa issue is just one.’ says the hospitality management company's CEO.

South Africa’s tourism authorities and role players need to stop being protective of their individual fiefdoms if the industry is to realise the double-digit growth of which it is capable.

This is the view of Neil Markowitz, CEO of Newmark Hotels & Reserves, a hospitality management company with a portfolio of 23 properties that include upmarket hotels in central Cape Town, game lodges and resorts throughout Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.

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“Tourism could go a very long way towards improving GDP [gross domestic product] but private sector initiatives and efforts continue to be thwarted, only sometimes for political reasons, by government.”

Markowitz feels government – at all levels – doesn’t take tourism seriously enough. This short-sightedness, he says, is not only a serious stumbling block to potentially huge financial inflows and the employment opportunities the industry could unlock.

Scoring own goals

“South Africa has scored a number of own goals, of which the visa issue is just one. The two biggest potential new markets for tourists to South Africa are China and India, but the visa application process is massively problematic.”

Markowitz believes there is a definite “disconnect between the private sector and government” with regards to tourism.

“I don’t understand how the situation can have persisted for so long. “There is a lot of negative energy – and enormous lost opportunity – around the system and its slow processes. Tourism is crucial for socioeconomic growth.

“It is one of the quickest ways to create a considerable number of jobs in the country because it generally requires inherent at titude rather than expertise obtained through years of practice.

“These are sustainable employment opportunities because most skills are easily acquired and transportable throughout the industry.” In contrast to the state’s lethargy, the private sector was eager to facilitate the flow of more visitors to SA and its neighbours.

“A lot of the product owners in this industry are starting to understand and appreciate that mutual cooperation will benefit whole regions rather than individual players or countries. In that sense there is a lot of forward-thinking within the private sector.

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“The power of the collective will always be more appealing to the international traveller than that of many individuals,” says Markowitz, quoting the phrase commonly used in eco-tourism – “dropping the fences” – to provide greater value to visitors.

Small game reserves drop fences with their neighbours in order to improve the movement of animals across their properties. Individual lodges maintain their autonomy but economies of scale are achieved in areas such as perimeter fencing and anti-poaching, while guests have better game viewing opportunities.

“Dropping one’s mental fences”, says Markowitz, is key to tourism and hospitality industry businesses achieving success.

He doubts SA will ever become a “mass” tourism destination, mainly due to its physical isolation from existing and prospective international markets.

Difficult getting to SA

“We can be the best marketers in the world when it comes to selling this country but the truth remains that it is a slog getting here. Dropping the fences, he adds, implies sharing the financial bounty with other African countries “because this is how the game is going to be played”.

He adds: “Countries such as Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Namibia as well as the Indian Ocean island destinations such as Mauritius and the Seychelles are as much on the international traveller’s bucket list as Cape Town or the Kruger National Park.”

A number of South African companies, Newmark included, were engaged in pioneering initiatives across the continent.

“Regional connectivity, however, is a problem. The fact that you can’t fly direct to Zanzibar from Cape Town or Joburg, for instance, must be urgently addressed.”

He stresses that he is “not here to bash government but I feel part of the problem lies in the time it takes to identify and act upon ‘the disconnects’”

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