The tourism industry is the quintessential small business industry.
It is a hive of small operators doing wonderful things like taking tourists to out of the way places, accommodating them in quirky places, flying balloons, chasing sharks, offering foreigners the savoury delights of this gorgeous country.
It seems to me that this would be the kind of pot that the new Department of Small Business will be stirring. (It’s not yet a department, but I believe that government feels the need to appoint a Minister to look after us.)
My friend Dave is a tour planner. He helps foreigners connect with all the superb services available in South Africa.
Last year the South African government invited more than 1000 Indian travel agents to South Africa to check out the local smorgasbord. Many of the local firms offered their services for free in the hope of garnering Indian tourists, especially for our quiet period. (Which is a lovely phrase for Winter, don’t you think?)
It worked. Almost.
Somewhere in this wonderful mix one government department did not come to the party. With more than 130,000 Indians in the queue, it seems that they employed just one official to issue the visum that each visitor needs to come to paradise.
This came to light a few weeks ago, right at the beginning of the quiet period. Which has become rather harried.
Basically, this single official must process a visum every 41.74 seconds. (I offer the two decimal points to indicate the rigour of my research, and because I’m told that it’s more authoritative).
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some experience with public servants, and this is about the time it takes to open the document, find the page, ink the stamp, and bang it down. I’m sure that there must be more to it than that, and I’m sure that it does take a lot more than 41.74 seconds.
The chaps at the top of each department have been “conducting high-level discussions”. The fellows at the bottom of the industry, including my friend Dave and many of his suppliers, have been taking action.
The high-level discussions still have not managed to get much done. Dave, on the other hand, has had to retrench staff, and is taking appropriate steps to close his business.
Last year he saw some writing on the wall, and devoted a lot of effort into the Indian market. The writing said “Go north.” The unexpected outcome of doing just that is that Dave is going a little too far south.
I found it interesting that in all the reporting of this issue no one seems to be taking the side of lone business owners. I haven’t yet seen a report on the anguish that small businesses are feeling as they refund deposits, and see their investment in reaching this market falling apart.
I’m not sure if opening a new small business ministry is a good thing or not. My experiences with Ministers is such that it would be good to have one present to say last rites to each business as it closes.
Although, maybe the existing ministries could stop their bickering and employ a few more folk to offer Indians that same welcome at the embassy that they’re going to get on landing here.