PLETTENBERG BAY NEWS - The new tourism bylaw proposed by Bitou Municipality has been a hot topic on the lips of tourism stakeholders in the town.
According to the draft, the bylaw is designed to administer the municipality's executive authority in respect of local tourism-related matters to regulate the involvement of the community in the effective administration of local tourism".
“This by-law was drafted without any input from Plett Tourism or the Plett Accommodation Association – both with substantial member numbers, says an anonymous member of both bodies.
The bylaw suggests that a tourism board be established, consisting of a council representative nominated by the mayor to serve as the chairperson; a municipal official designated by the municipal manager; a representative of the Plett Tourism Association nominated by the association; and nominated representatives of the community.
"We do not need a new board to be formed, the existing one has done a fantastic job and there is no reason for it not to continue or be replaced. The board member allocation is simply unacceptable and is clearly only benefiting a select few municipal officials," says the member.
"We need people from a tourism and marketing background, the business chamber, restaurants, hotels and other establishments on the board – people who are part of the community and who have the tourism required experience."
Fees, charges and tariffs
The bylaw proposes that the board be responsible to, among others, advise the municipality on the establishment, maintenance and upgrade of tourist facilities; the marketing of Bitou as a tourist destination and the charging of fees, charges or tariffs to fund the "Tourism Fund".
It is these "fees, charges or tariffs" that has also struck a nerve with locals.
The by-law suggests that these charges be imposed on visitors making use of tourist facilities.
“Residents and business owners feel that this will make Plett less desirable and less competitive. In this day and age where everyone is trying to tighten their belts when it comes to spending, especially on holidays, this puts Plett at a disadvantage,” says local resident Joanne Barrett, who has been campaigning for the town's tourism body to remain independent.
All tourism establishments will also be required to become a member of a municipal accredited tourism organisation, which will collect these fees, charges or tariffs from the establishments and pay the funds over to the municipality.
It is unclear which tourism organisations will be accredited and what the accreditation requirements are.
Other clauses that have sparked outcry include a search-and-seizure as well as a penalties clause – which includes fines and even imprisonment – for those who do not comply with the provisions of the bylaw.
Plett Tourism chairman Peter Wallington has urged all who have an interest in tourism and Plett’s future to submit their views to the municipal manager as called for in the municipal notice.
Bylaw 'ignores work done so far'
He says the proposed bylaw ignores the brand building work done by Plett Tourism over the past five years.
Wallington further says the bylaw seems to suggest that the municipality would in any case not be bound by advice from the board or board members and no reporting mechanism would be in place.
"The Plett Tourism Association was formed after an extensive consultation process and research of needs," he says.
The board was elected with representatives of the tourism industry, business stakeholders and two appointed municipal members. "There is also transparency through regular operational and financial reports."
Wallington says they also oppose compulsory fees, charges or tariffs to fund projects determined by the municipality, but support the principle of a funding mechanism.
Who will run information office?
He adds that the bylaw is silent on Plett Tourism's role and who would actually do the work of destination marketing. "It is also silent on who will run the tourism information office.
"We are in support of destination marketing remaining with Plett Tourism, and we would welcome being enabled to promote the maintenance of standards with members," he says. "At present we don’t have the power, capacity or budget to do this. The tourism organisation is not the appropriate vehicle to collect fees, charges or tariffs, nor to hand over ownership data, nor report establishments not registered."
Wallington also says the search-and-seizure clause and the fines and jail terms for noncompliance need to be removed.
The PT/PAA member says one should not "fix something that isn't broken". "The tourism function was in-house in the past and did not work. Tourism was at an all-time low. Five years later, tourism is no longer as seasonal as it used to be. There are tourists visiting the area throughout the year and that is as a result of the work Plett Tourism has done."
The municipality failed to respond to queries about the bylaw before going to print.
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