Sunday, 18 July 2010

The great South African rip-off

Note: this article was written 6 months before the World Cup - before criticism had reached the ears of the South African tourism industry who changed their rip-offy ways.

I cannot fathom how anyone could have expected the FIFA-sanctioned Great South African rip-off to have resulted in such capitalist excess, which neatly coincides with a football tournament. Tourism companies are licking their greedy lips, ready to fleece foreigners of every pound, dollar and peso they can get their gluttonous fingers on.

It starts with getting around: naturally, because of the size of our country, air travel will be key in ferrying football fans. However, a search I did recently for return fares from Johannesburg to Cape Town on all SA domestic airlines (23-30 June) revealed that the cheapest possible price was R4038 with The cheapest SAA flight was R7260, usually an amount of money that can carry you a lot further - it is virtually what you are charged to fly direct between Johannesburg and London.

As if it couldn't get worse, there are accusations of collusion now flying between the Competition Commission and our domestic airlines. In simple language: price-fixing. At the time of writing, 1Time, Mango and Comair (which includes British Airways and Kulula) have already denied any collusion, but SAA have upturned the apple-cart with an application for leniency from the Commission as a reward for passing over emails it maintains could act as evidence. It doesn't look great.

And, as a cherry on top, Airports Company South Africa has asked for a 100% increase in airport charges over two years, which, luckily, was rejected yesterday. It would have, in some instances, resulted in driving the tax up to over 50% of your ticket.

Accommodation will be no better. I know of a lodge which usually charges R130 per night for a bed in a dormitory. For June and July, this will be knocked up to as much as R300 per night. Never has the hotel industry been this prepared to score so much, including the legal distributor of WC2010 accommodation, a FIFA-appointed company called Match which will be charging providers an alleged 30% commission on all bed-nights sold - driving prices up even further. And as these hoteliers sing and dance around their well-maintained lobbies celebrating their exorbitant fortunes-to-be, they are doing our country a massive disservice.

Our failure here is that this money-grabbing overload has absolutely no long-term benefit for South Africa. People who are ripped off will not come back. It is that simple. They will tell their friends not to come here. They will write reviews of how they were charged R2100 to spend a week in one of 14 beds in a dorm, after parting with something mortgage-like to fund their plane ticket.

Two reasons that SA is regarded as a top tourist destination: our transport infrastructure is good (in terms of air travel) and we're cheap. Well, due to our upcoming obsession with thrashing every tourist's credit card to within an inch of its life, no one will be able to afford the flights (do you really want our visitors driven around by Roadlink?), the places to stay, and I don't even want to think about how much the private taxi industry is going try and gorge itself out of the deal.

SA Tourism needs to get involved if we are to stave off a new reputation of being nothing other than money-grabbing sharks. We are known for our hospitality, and this will do us no favours in entrenching the South Africa brand. No-one is denying the tourism industry the right to profit, but to let such excess run wild will present us with nothing sustainable from the biggest advertising campaign we will ever undergo.

This is our opportunity to show what we're all about. If we want to present an image of thieves and profiteers, then we should continue as we are unabated, and screw every cent out of whoever we can get our greedy claws into.

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