PLETTENBERG BAY NEWS - A controversial new proposed tourism bylaw by the Bitou Municipality has left Plettenberg Bay residents and tourism stakeholders hot under the collar, sparking fears of a possible tourism downturn in the near future.
"Tourism is the lifeblood of our beautiful town and tampering with this vital economic driver could spell disaster for Plett," says local resident Joanne Barrett said. She has been campaigning for the town's tourism body to remain independent.
Inviting public comment
The proposed bylaw seemingly proposes that the tourism function become an "in-house" endeavour and is currently open for public comment, objections and representations.
The proposal has since sparked a public outcry, including a petition signed by more than 2 000 individuals.
According to the draft, the bylaw is designed to "administer its (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".
‘No input from role players’
“This bylaw was drafted without any input from Plett Tourism or the Plett Accommodation Association – both with substantial member numbers. This is bad news," says a member of both bodies, who does not want to be named.
The draft bylaw suggests that a tourism board be established and consisting of a representative of the municipal council, nominated by the mayor to serve as the chair; an official of the municipality designated by the municipal manager; a representative of the Plett Tourism Association nominated by the association; and nominated representatives of the community.
‘No need for new board’
"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 to be replaced. The board member allocation is simply unacceptable and is clearly only benefiting a select few municipal officials,” continues the anonymous tourism role player.
"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."
The draft 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. All tourism establishments will be required to become a member of a municipal-accredited tourism organisation. The tourism organisation will then have to 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 clause as well as a penalties clause – which includes fines and even imprisonment – for those who do not comply with the provisions of the bylaw.
Correct solution sought
Plett Tourism chair Peter Wallington says they would be submitting a formal response shortly and are engaging with political, business and tourism stakeholders. "We are confident that the correct solution will be reached," Wallington says. He has urged all who have an interest in tourism and Plett’s future to submit their views to the municipal manager as the municipal notice has called for.
He adds that the proposed tourism bylaw ignores the brand building work done by Plett Tourism over the past five years.
He says they oppose several aspects of the proposed bylaw including the fact that the municipality would control tourism, and appoint a board and chair.
‘No reporting mechanism in place’
The proposed bylaw says the board would determine the budget and the priority of spend. Wallington further says the bylaw also 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."
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."
Who will run information office?
Wallington says they oppose compulsory fees, charges or tariffs to fund projects determined by the municipality, but support the principle of a funding mechanism for tourism for projects determined by Plett Tourism as it executes a destination marketing strategy supported by a wide range of stakeholders.
Wallington 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.
‘Not the appropriate vehicle’
"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. 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 those who are noncompliant 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.
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