South Africa’s tourism industry has called for urgent government intervention as hundreds of new and existing tour operators are unable to work, or are being forced to do so illegally, as the National Public Transport Regulator (NPTR) is not fully functional.
Tour operators in South Africa require accreditation to provide tourist transport services. The current law prescribes that operating licences for tourist vehicles be issued by the NPTR, which falls under the Department of Transport, within 60 days for new operators and within a day for accredited operators.
The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) is calling on the Presidency’s Red Tape team to urgently step in and declare an immediate moratorium on new and renewal applications for accreditation, operating licences and permits, pending the resolution of the current impasse, as well as to appoint a task team to relook at regulation of tourism vehicles, and implement solutions at the NPTR.
“Systemic failure of the NPTR’s licence system began over five years ago, and for most of the last two and a half years, there has been no board at the NPTR at all,” the association said in an emailed statement on Wednesday (22 June).
“Despite SATSA writing to both the ministers of Transport and Tourism, and after numerous engagements with the regulator and a host of technocrats within both departments, Government is yet to resolve this bureaucratic disaster.”
This is not a new problem, but it is now a crisis which requires urgent intervention by the government, said Oupa Pilane, deputy chair of SATSA.
“Post-pandemic, tourism companies are already in financial crisis but are unable to recover because hundreds of vehicles are stranded without operating licences. Many of those who do continue to operate without valid licences are being pulled over by SAPS and traffic officials who impound the vehicles, leaving tourists stranded on the side of the road.
“This is quite simply untenable. We understand that after two years of no NPTR board at all, an Interim Board has been appointed, but it will take months to get up to speed and to begin to address the backlog before it is able to follow the law in respect of the process and timing of licencing.”
David Frost, chief executive of SATSA, said that the licensing paralysis is causing severe economic and reputational damage to the tourism industry, as it is inhibiting the growth and job creation of small, medium, and large enterprises, and resulting in business closures and job losses.
Many of the close to 1,000 applications that have stalled at the NPTR are from SMEs and black-owned businesses. In turn, it has an increasingly negative impact on the sustainability of tourism in South Africa and the wider South African economy, he said.
“The tourism industry is fully supportive of a system that ensures that compliant organisations are running fit and proper vehicles, as this is critical in maintaining and enhancing South Africa’s reputation as a tourism destination.
“Tourism vehicle operators are trying to follow the process but cannot obtain licences timeously and even worse, over the past two years, not at all. This results in an inability to invest in fleets. Tour operators own assets that cannot generate income but carry expenses.
“They cannot hire additional staff because vehicles can’t operate. Instead of running and growing their businesses, they are spending time dealing with red tape. Some are being forced to operate illegally, resulting in vehicles with tourists onboard being impounded by traffic officers. Worse still, is that businesses are closing, and jobs are being lost.”