Less Talk More Action
There is no doubt that the tourism sector in South Africa is in deep trouble. COVID-19 has devastated our industry and set us back by what some commentators believe is as much as five years, But as an industry, are we learning anything from this crisis, or are we just going to go back to our pre-crisis normal?
Sadly, leaders of our hospitality and tourism sector have become very myopic in recent years - preferring to look at what is on the table rather than what the future holds, and this outlook needs to change if we are going to survive into the future as a viable tourism industry. Understandably, our immediate problem is getting going again and in saving what is left of our industry, but we are forgetting that the future needs action today - not next year, next decade or anytime later.
Leaders in the industry have in the past brushed-off initiatives designed to develop a sustainable industry - one that is prepared and capable of surviving future threats. Not that anyone could have prepared for the impacts of COVID, but the latest pandemic is only one sign of how we have abused our environment and how we need to start paying more than just lip-service to sustainability in general.
With few exceptions, the industry failed to recognise the need for sustainability and believe me, they will do the same about measures to control and eradicate this crisis. Not because they cant, but rather because they are more interested in going through the motions and being seen as doing something - however fleeting and ineffective. The current measures will fade from their memories once the crisis ends, and it will be back to business-as-usual for most. They will appoint internal health ambassadors and as has been practice to date, simply ignore them or select individuals that have no authority or power to implement or manage their brand standard. This is what they did with environmental management - a function allocated to patently dis-empowered but well-meaning individuals. As for independent verification of performance - forget that! Either the GM's will complain about the extra work or executives will try get-by at the lowest possible cost when they don't like what they are being told about their poor efforts and processes.
Then they will create standards and procedures that have very little to do with controlling transmission - but focused instead on controlling costs and looking good. Oh, and don't forget creating their own competing brands and slogans in an effort to attract as many guests as possible - at any price. Forget the illegal activities that are taking place behind the scenes - or even in plain sight, just as long as they are seen to be doing something.
Sadly, the lessons that we are being taught by the pandemic will not be learned or remembered once travellers start returning and profits start climbing. That is the nature of leadership in our industry and sadly, the cause of most of our problems. The time has come for decision-makers in tourism to stop talking and to start doing the right thing - no matter who, what or where it may originate.
Sustainability is not a 'nice to have' anymore and the time has come to start taking the very real challenges that sustainability poses more seriously, because believe us when we say that we haven't seen anything yet.