KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa as a whole is blessed with an abundance of natural environmental beauty with diverse landscapes, ecosystems and species as well as rich biodiversity, being one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. South Africa has a mature tourism industry, which is the largest tourism economy in Africa, focused on nature-based tourism and ecotourism businesses based around millions of hectares of diverse land. According to an annual review by the World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2018, tourism in South Africa contributed R425.8 billion to the economy, representing 8.6% of all economic activity as well as 1.5 million jobs.

The South African tourism sector can drive economic growth, create jobs and promote social development, as long as we plan and implement the country’s strategy for this expansion, by incorporating environment sustainability, prioritising regional integration and including and including local communities. For this, the government, at all levels, needs to create a supportive policy environment as well as a clear legal and regulatory framework that is agile and adaptive to keep pace with an industry that is known for its evolutionary nature along with introducing best practices while removing barriers to entry and growth.

One of the more contentious issues facing the tourism sector is the regulation of the so-called shared or collaborative economy by the proposed new Tourism Amendment Bill, which seeks to regulate short-term leasing and property-sharing apps like Airbnb. According to Airbnb from June 2017 to May 2018, Airbnb generated an estimated R8.7 billion and approximately 22,000 jobs across the broader South African economy. The government needs to modify the new Bill as well as other policies to encourage innovation and empowers participation from and benefit for local communities as well as the economy.

This will allow more people to embrace the tourism sector and its value and supply chain, especially amongst target beneficiaries such as the youth, women and rural communities and can lead to greater possibilities for job and opportunity creation as well as rural and township development. Tourism development will mean that these communities can engage in sustainable economic activities that assist in poverty alleviation and income generation as well as the infrastructure development and upliftment of the community as a whole through internal and external investment. Rural tourism development can allow rural communities to shift to multiple sources of employment and create population stability by reducing migration to urban areas as the opportunities and jobs will now exist in the local communities.

The traditional hospitality and tourism sector businesses such as hotel groups, conference centres, and bed and breakfasts have a crucial role to play in all developments related to the industry as the local tourism industry continues to expand despite regional and global economic constraints. These businesses still contribute significantly to opportunity and job creation within the sector as well as play a significant role in shaping the global perception of South African tourism. These businesses need to work with local communities to future proof the industry through innovation, adaptability and improved overall value proposition.