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Writes: Edwin Sipho Rihlamvu

Ms Bulelwa Seti,
Chief Director Tourism Support speaks on the occasion of her 100 days in office

Tell us about yourself and your background.

I am a Social Worker by profession and I have been at the employ of the Department of Social Development, where I was responsible for the population development programme. I became passionate about rural development, for I personally witnessed the abject poverty, destitution and need that was written all over the faces of my clients, that I came into daily contact with, as I was discharging my duties. I thus decided that it is incumbent upon me to make a contribution, no matter how small, in obviating the plight of my lot.

The programme that I was involved in focused on population, against obtaining demographic realities &endash; engaging communities in identifying actual urgent needs as opposed to perceived "requirements" that were advanced by development planners.

For instance, we had to, in a participatory planning (top down bottom up) process that involved locals, decide whether a clinic was an immediate need as opposed to accessible water provision and so on. Research, advocacy, operational planning and the empowerment of locals were pillars of our approach in all interventions.

If you were still at the Department of Social Development today, what would your views be regarding Women and Child Abuse on the one hand, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic on the other?

These two topical issues are very critical in cementing the resuscitation of our dwindling social fiber. Whereas there are entrenched legal recourses in place, there are still sadly high incidences of women and child abuse in the country, which directly accounts for this high HIV AIDS all-time record.

Thus I would call for strong leadership (including a renewed political buy-in); focused strategies and a clear vision about how to effectively arrest this scourge. The time is now for the political leadership to cascade to municipal, down to levels and encourage the populace on the ground to be vocal and visibly engage with set up legal systems that are cable of obviating the crisis in question.

What made you to be interested in this position?

My attraction to this position is a further manifestation of my engraved passion - being to entrench and reaffirm the dignity of our Historically Disadvantaged Individuals (HDI's) within the economic mainstream, wherein they should equitably participate.

The face of tourism in the country should urgently "change hands" and begin to be driven by competent advocates. In short, I see my interest in this position as being to accelerate transformation within the tourism industry, particularly focusing on the following:

. Being the quality assurer, of a set of economic and business measurement and statistical tools that is useful for South Africa,

. Intervening in the airlift / airline arena to foster a freer flow of tourists to the country,

. Setting global standards to reduce 'leakage' in the tourism economy,

. Establishing a consistent human resources base that, in partnership with tourism training institutions, should be capable of absorbing budding tourism professionals to the fold and

. Accelerating transformation concerning ownership of tourism products. In this regard, giving biting teeth to the Tourism BEE Charter. mobilize direct and indirect resources through working partnerships with the battery of industry players including government departments, parastatal bodies, NGO's, etc. I am rooted in the believe that tourism must remain dynamic, relevant, and updated in line with newly identified challenges while being firmly anchored within the parameters of international standards.

There have been numerous calls from the tour - guiding sector for transformation to be achieved soonest. How are you going to address this issue?

Our greatest challenge is the fact that we are having these (especially Black) tour guides that we intend training in foreign languages, whereas they are not even adequately competent in English. This may pose as a formidable challenge in the fact that our good intentions in seeking to capacitate them in foreign languages, may be an oversight, and negate our very object. We need to be progressive, and build a base where we first expose tour guides to basic English, and then invest in their tuition in other languages as they improve.

Another level that needs to be explored much more robustly is creating conducive environments for the tour-guides to thrive in. We should be clear about the needs analysis of the market, and its preparedness to absorb black tour-guides without prejudice. Furthermore, the more established tour operators should be prepared to accept aspirant HDI tour-guides in the (currently white dominated) industry so that they can gain the necessary exposure and experience.

That to me would constitute massive strides towards achieving transformation within the sector. Government may need to legislate some kind of an HDI quota system within the tour-guiding industry should the carrot approach of reasonably negotiating transformation abort.

In general, do you feel that enough is being done to assist historically disadvantaged individuals from entering into the tourism industry and how do you think this could be improved?

I believe that things are certainly moving in the right direction. There can be no doubt that one of the key requirements for small emerging tourism businesses is mentorship. The larger and more anchored tourism businesses can play a significant role in the future sustainability of smaller businesses, if they take the time and effort to become involved. Having said that, I am sure that in the coming years we will see an increase in mentorship, with established businesses looking to bolster their BEE scorecards and ratings.

In terms of International Liaison, what plans are there to make sure that agreements on tourism are optimally taken advantage of?

The approach towards optimally leveraging multi and bilateral engagements should be a collaborative effort by all parties within the Tourism Branch, led by the Directorate Tourism International Relations.

These agreements should be individually exploited to address the expressed needs as identified by each component within the Branch - human resources development, research, quality assurance and business development.

After depositing the Branch's needs into a "basket", Tourism International Relations would then match each of them with the agreements that are active and then invoke their relevant articles to leverage assistance.

How do you think the relationship between provinces and national government should be strengthened, particularly around the issue of cooperative governance?

I think what is important is to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each tier. National government's role in this regard is to develop policy and associated guidelines, coupled with enabling frameworks for the efficient and effective rolling-out of such at provincial and subsequently local levels. If this formula is correctly adhered to, there will not be any possibility of misunderstanding.

It is equally important to engage in a participatory planning and consultative process with all the players that would be involved in the value-chain so that their buy-in is garnered on the basis of a collective consensus. I believe that the principles that I have alluded to equally apply to our relationship with provinces and form the basis for strengthened cooperative governance.

You should also be aware that in terms of legislation, tourism is the responsibility of provinces. The reason being that through succinctly layout tourism development strategies, communities on the ground are inclined to benefit and extract themselves from the poverty circle. Therefore, by developing tourism products at local level, the economic being of communities will be enhanced. I believe that local authorities should begin to take the contribution of tourism as a vehicle towards sustained economy and poverty alleviation much more seriously, and my contribution in that regard would be to facilitate that process.

What are the realities on the ground in terms of tourism development, and how do you propose they should be improved?

In certain instances provinces would have their health plans, water and sanitation strategies etc without having tourism development plans. This is problematic because without carefully crafted tourism development plans the tourism potential of that province may be dealt a blow or subverted. I think we should start moving towards a situation whereby municipalities are encouraged to develop tourism development plans referenced from the global competitiveness study.

What would you consider as the achievements that highlight your 100 days in office?

I should point out from the outset that I am surrounded by a supportive team of very efficient and competent individuals. Thus it would be unfair of me to claim that I have achieved anything without making reference to the fact that we work as a collective whereas I provide leadership.

Through my leadership, the Chief Directorate has amongst others convened provincial registrars to look at the tour-guiding act with the view of developing regulations that would facilitate the rolling out of such. Secondly, we have made remarkable strides towards strengthening our relationship with training providers such as THETA around skills development.

On the international relations front, we lobbied and facilitated a process, which led to the election of South Africa as Vice-President of the WTO General Assembly. Furthermore, we have convened three well-received tourism trade workshops, which were held in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain in the Gulf State and attended by South African Heads of Mission in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

The main objective of these workshops was to enhance their tourism knowledge as they are expected to market the country. The workshops also coincided with the launch of Etihad Airways' twice a week flights to Johannesburg. Etihad Airways will be the sixth airline flying into South Africa from the Middle East.

What is the motto that you live your life by?

Do what you say you are going to do, do it to the best of your ability or don't do it at all.


South African National Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism

South African Tourism - www.southafrica.net

South African National Parks - www.sanparks.org

International Marketing Council - www.sanparks.org.za



Tel: 27 (12) 310 3940

Fax: 27 (12) 322 5754

Mobile: 073 902 4504

E-mail: erihlamvu@deat.gov.za

Visit our website: www.deat.gov.za


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