Tourism minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk has said that government's identification of tourism as a sector of the economy earmarked for priority intervention is "a sincere compliment, a grave responsibility and an unmatched opportunity." Speaking at the fifth anniversary of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa, which coincided with World Tourist Guide Day, the minister rallied the industry on to meet this challenge, especially in light of the 2010 soccer world cup.
He issued his own challenge to tourism role players, saying that it was time the tourism industry and training institutions got together to produce a skills development programme that produces appropriately skilled hospitality workers.
To this end, he has allocated R7.5 million to a partnership between the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, THETA (the Tourism Hospitality and Education Training Authority), the National Business Initiative and the Tourism Business Council of South Africa. He gave the alliance six months to create a Skills Plan that satisfies all those involved.
Van Schalkwyk looked back over the last five years and praised the tourism grading council on its achievements to date - grading 70 percent of South Africa's accommodation rooms, 20 percent of backpackers and youth hostels and a third of all game reserves and lodges.
The council is also the first in the world to grade more than 130 meetings, exhibitions and special events venues. However, he urged restaurateurs to get involved in the restaurant grading scheme developed last year, as the plan is to have 40 percent of the nation's restaurants graded in time for the world cup.
The minister also said, "By 2010 we aim to have graded 95 percent of all accommodation and 60 percent of all conference venues in the country." He said that preliminary estimates are that South Africa is between 160,000 and 180,000 beds short of meeting the demand for accommodation during the world cup.
Rather than simply embarking on a building spree, the minister said that "innovative plans for opening new kinds of ccommodation, better access and transport into match locations and expanding the radius of accommodation used in these areas" would be ways of addressing this shortage. The minister confirmed that tourist transport services and the golfing sector would also be coming under scrutiny from the tourism grading council, with a star scheme being implemented.