Can Tourism Help South Africa's Poor?

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The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), an umbrella body established in 1996 to represent the private-sector tourism industry, recently adopted a more specific set of proposals for bringing racial equity into the tourism sector.

TBCSA spokesperson Ntsiki Mpulo said, "The tourism industry has proactively drafted its own scorecard. … Although it is not law, we expect that the industry will embrace the scorecard."

The scorecard awards points to businesses that increase the percentage of black jobholders and black managers and that partner with black-owned businesses, among other measures.

The program establishes specific goals to be met by 2009 and 2014.

"I am excited about the way we are getting the building blocks for sustainable tourism into place," said Ernie Heath, head of the tourism department of the University of Pretoria. "In the past the focus tended to shift between the environmental, the commercial, and the people aspect. We are now taking a more balanced approach."

Tourism and Conservation

Some experts say wildlife conservation has also benefited as appreciation has grown for tourism's role as an economic-growth engine.

"Naturally we want to conserve nature for its own sake," Matlou, the South African government tourism official, said. "But we are one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, and because people pay to come and see our wildlife, it makes sense to go just that much further to preserve our natural assets."

Since 1994 the government has designated four new national parks, bringing the total to 20. South Africa has also added substantially more land to existing parks. Almost 20 percent of the country's coastal zone has been designated as protected.

In addition, vast parts of rural South Africa have been converted from grazing and farming lands to wildlife reserves. The country is home to about 9,000 game ranches, covering an area of about 42 million acres (17 million hectares), according to Game Ranch Management, a book edited by J. du P. Bothma, director of the University of Pretoria's Centre for Wildlife Management. The game-ranch acreage is more than double the amount of land formally protected as national and provincial parkland.

Working for Water, a government program that began in 1995, now has 300 projects throughout the country. The initiative aims to enhance ecological integrity, promote sustainable use of natural resources, and invest in the most marginalized sectors of South African society.

Matlou said that in sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa is the "driving force behind transfrontier parks, which allow animals to roam across national boundaries."

"Our tourism product is becoming increasingly diversified, giving it wider appeal while at the same time encouraging entrepreneurship," Heath, of the University of Pretoria, said. "There is no reason why it should not be a trigger for social and economic development. Entailed in the product's development is a vital commitment to developing rural South Africa, where the poorest of our people live."

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