Operating in a country with a history of segregation, the Department of Tourism is tackling the complexity of inclusion head on, its depth and width.
The National Inclusivity Pledge.
On the weekend leading to the start of Africa’s Travel Indaba 2023, the Department of Tourism committed itself by declaring a pledge of inclusivity for the sector,setting the industry on a path to commit to a code of conduct. Engagement has started with panel discussions sessions during the event and the question of how exactly we can be inclusive as a sector was unpacked extensively, amongst other critical points, with an example from Thami Dish of Thami Dish Foundation representing the LGBTQ+ community, correcting the moderator that addressing audiences with ‘ladies and gentlemen’ is not inclusive. Siting ‘Thank you everyone’ as what is more appropriate. The panel included representatives from Universal Accessibility, the Human Rights Commission and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation – leading the conversation on how the sector can be conscious of inclusivity beyond policies and pledges.
“We need to reflect on our own biases and call ourselves out when we overlook things like not having sign language interpreters available on the floor of business exhibitions such as this one [referring to Travel Indaba] and learn basics such as greeting in sign language.” Bronwen Auret of Tourism Grading Council of SA commented in an interview with Lifestyle and Tech.
Browen concurs with the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation representative who recommended that we need to be explicit about inclusivity and label spaces such as park benches with “For Everyone” [as opposed to a time when in SA there was designated spaces for whites only] so that people can transition to being actively inclusive.
Skills Development for Small Establishments
For the Department, inclusivity includes the marginalised and/or previously disadvantaged individuals trying to access the sector but are limited by shortage of skills and capacity.
As the only quality assurance body in the country for the sector, Tourism Grading Council has taken an organic yet focussed approach through its Assessor Program. The Program has been playing the role of handholding for establishments that need support to shift from current to desired status by meeting the requirements of the council. “The role of the program is more like a consulting service,” Bronwen added. “Through this pre-grading process establishments are guided on exactly how to progress their establishments to a point where they meet standards required by the grading star they are aspiring for.”
This week, the Department announced that its Basic Quality Verification Program is being launched in KZN as an expansion from its pilot in the Eastern-Cape which saw 120 establishments being successfully graded. The programme helps small tourism establishments in under-resourced villages, towns, and small dorpies (VTSDs) reach their full potential by giving them access to training, expertise, and resources, as well as The Grading Council of South Africa’s valuable stamp of approval.
On restoring quality of customer service, Auret acknowledges that the situation needs multiple interventions and that the sector lost its much-needed institutional knowledge and skills to COVID-19. The Welcome Program is hard at work – training incumbents at all ports of entry. In October 2022 the program trained an entire staff compliment for a cruise liner and port of entry in the Western Cape – to train the first cruise liner to go live post covid.
Being part of rebuilding quality and capacity for the tourism sector is a responsibility and honour not taken lightly by Grading Council. Whilst there’s much progress to be made around inclusivity within the sector, the good news its stakeholders are open to learning and are taking action.