Responsible tourism in the draft NTSS: progress or regression?

comment on the NTSS

The comment period on the draft National Tourism Sector Strategy (NTSS) closes on Wednesday, 5 July 2017. We thought to view the draft through the Responsible Tourism lens. If you’re still to submit your views, perhaps you’ll find ideas here to inspire your feedback to the Department of Tourism (NDT).

The NTSS operationalises the Tourism Act

First, we reflect on the purpose of the NTSS.  The NTSS is created to realise Section 4 of the Tourism Act, Act 3 of 2014.  As such, it should reflect and operationalise the objects of the legislation.  The Tourism Act states five objects; to –

  • promote the practising of responsible tourism, contemplated in subsection (2), for the benefit of the Republic and for the enjoyment of all its residents and foreign visitors;
  • provide for the effective domestic and international marketing of South Africa as a tourist destination;
  • promote quality tourism products and services;
  • promote growth in and development of the tourism sector; and
  • enhance cooperation and coordination between all spheres of government in developing and managing tourism.

Responsible Tourism in the 2011 NTSS

Though published in 2011,  NTSS (2010 – 2020) took its cue from the 1996 White Paper.  Consequently, Responsible Tourism took centre-stage in the 2011 NTSS.  The NTSS mission statement included the term “sustainable”. Importantly, responsible tourism is defined one of a set of nine values “All tourism development and activities shall deliver on the triple bottom-line, namely economic,  social and environmental sustainability” (p. 9). Moreover, it also featured as one of eleven strategic objectives “To promote responsible tourism’ practices within the sector” (p. 10).  Finally, Cluster 2.2: Tourism growth and development – supply defined specific actions and sub-actions related to this objective.  These are shown below:responsible tourism in the current NTSS

The South African National Standard for Responsible Tourism

Amongst other actions, the NDT developed the South African National Standard for Responsible Tourism (SANS 1162:2011). Thus, it fulfilled one of the sub-actions specified this section of the NTSS *.  In 2012, Minister Toxozile Xasa described the aims of SANS 1161:2011 as follows “to promote the implementation of Responsible Tourism principles in tourism businesses, harmonise sustainable tourism certification programmes and set a national benchmark for tourism businesses to aspire to”.  However, the standard did not quite intend to place the onus to deliver on responsible tourism solely at the door of tourism businesses. In fact, SANS 116:2011 (SANSRT) states “This standard establishes minimum requirements for the performance of organisations in the tourism sector ”. Therefore, the scope of the SANSRT extends beyond tourism businesses, to include tourism sector organisations, tourism marketing organisations and government entities responsible for the marketing and/or governance of destinations.  

The position of Responsible Tourism in the draft NTSS

We now turn to the position of responsible tourism in the draft NTSS.  The opening section of the document presents a focus on growth in tourist numbers coupled with expenditure increases.  Crucially, the introduction recognises the continued relevance of responsible tourism.  Especially relevant, it is explicit about the desired nature of growth: “This growth will, by the values that drive South Africa as a developmental state, be inclusive, responsible and sustainable. It will also be underpinned by an awareness of the imperative of the wise use of scarce resources” (p. 1). 

Section 3 of the NTSS reviews the sector’s operating environment and trends impacting on the world and national tourism economy.  Most noteworthy, this part of the document recognises the ‘sustainability shift’ in tourism markets as one of seven major trends.  The NTSS described the trend as follows: “Increasingly tourists are choosing to reduce negative environmental, economic and social impacts on the host country. They prefer to choose destinations showing clear benefits flowing to local communities and minimal environmental impact” (p. 3).  The mission statement of the draft NTSS does not refer to sustainability, unlike that of the 2011 NTSS. Critically, the draft NTSS retains responsible tourism as a guiding principle and value.  

Moving forward

By implication, the implementation of all elements of the NTSS should deliver on the triple bottom-line, namely economic, social and environmental sustainability. As an example, for Pillar One: Effective Marketing this could mean leveraging the heightened awareness of conscious consumers and harnessing publicly funded marketing platforms to channel demand to tourism experiences that do not cost the earth. The reworking of programmes and strategies, under Pillar Five: Broad-based benefits, will benefit from due attention to SANS 1162:2011.

We are encouraged by the continued commitment to responsible tourism as a foundation for tourism in South Africa.  Let’s each do our bit to deliver on this undertaking.

Have your say                

Don’t forget to let the NDT have your views on the NTSS by Wednesday, 5 July.  Send your comments to

* Several other sub-actions were also implemented.  This blog is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the implementation of the NTSS.