Business & Finance

Foreign Labour in the Tourism Industry

2015 was possibly the year when the tourism industry got the most public attention after the implementation of the visa regulations. It became a major talking point and because tourism in South Africa has a class character, the class nature of the debate was raised by the main stream media. By Unathi Sonwabile Henama.

The minute something affects the middle class and the owners of the means of production, it is forced into a national issue, whereas issues such as poverty, inequality and unemployment do not get the same gaze in the media. So the #VisaMustFall, stands side by side with #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall as major issues of the year 2015.

I agree that the implementation of the visa regulation had a detrimental impact on the tourism industry of South Africa, leading to declining arrivals and this threatened the livelihood of many.

The timing of the visa regulations led to a perfect storm as the South Africa Rand was one of the most volatile currencies that depreciated against major currencies.  This was an opportunity lost to market destination South Africa as being on ‘’sale’’ to attract price sensitive markets and deepen penetration in other market segments. The share of mining’s contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decreased further, whilst the commodity prices decreased. The growth rate of the economy in South Africa decreased to less than 2% and the tourism industry had a greater responsibility to play but because of the visa regulations, its developmental ability was dampened by the visa regulations. The visa regulations were relaxed after government was successfully lobbied and the government has taken steps to ensure that tourism red tape is reduced.

The Tourism BEE Act indicated that it seeks to integrate the previously disadvantaged in tourism as consumers and product owners and secondly, to ensure that tourism in South Africa remains globally competitive. The National Tourism Sector Strategy is very clear that South Africa must be one of the top 20 tourism destinations in the world.

Tourism destinations attracts tourism because of the positive economic impacts such as labour intensive jobs, tourism acting as a catalyst for other industries, the attraction of foreign exchange, and foreign direct investment that comes with tourism. Tourism which today attracts more foreign exchange than mining has its own gold rush. Just like the growth of mining led to an inward migration of people looking to exploit the opportunities that mining created, so too do people migrate to areas that have a lot of tourism opportunities.

According to the SARB Financial Stability Review (2015), unemployment remains one of the biggest concerns in South Africa, where more than 25 per cent remain unemployed. The biggest contributor to poverty in South Africa is rampant unemployment, feeding into the inequality levels, some of the greatest in the world. I then find it odd that the tourism industry (inclusive of hospitality) appears to have taken a position to employ foreign labour.

Tourism is developed to improve the standard of living of locals, and especially their quality of life. Therefore in 2016 I call on SATSAs CEO, David Frost to lead #ForeignLabourMustFall
as he so succesfully led #VisaMustFall.

The employ of foreign labour is a travesty to the development potential of tourism, leading to economic leakage. The employ of foreign labour in menial jobs adds insult to injury as locals are able to do the same jobs.

Related story: Tourism & Migration – Ed.

About the Author: Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at the Department of Tourism Management at the Tshwane University of Technology. The views expressed in this article are private. Unathi can be contacted via email at: or by calling: +27 (0)12 382 5507.

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