The business of tourism

Tourism is one of the largest industries in South Africa and is considered one of the major booster of the economy. With South Africa becoming a destination of choice for sporting, business and cultural events, a wide range of opportunities exist for entrepreneurs in the travel and tourism industry.

There is a common misconception that the tourism industry is mainly about providing accommodation to tourists, such as guesthouses, lodges, bed n breakfasts, hotels, camping sites, etc. In this article we explore the various sectors one can capitalise on, if you are considering your own tourism business.

The tourism industry comprises many segments, including:


The transport sector deals with transporting tourists (both domestic and international). This can be done in and around South Africa by, e.g. airlines, shuttles, trains, buses, ships, taxis, etc. Cabinet has approved the Public Transport Action Plan which supplements the Public Transport Strategy.

The strategy is expected to improve public transport services for over half of the country's population. Projects to be improved include:

  • Public transport links and facilities
  • Public transport interchange facilities
  • Rail infrastructure and system upgrades
  • Inter-modal facilities
  • Information technology (IT) infrastructure and systems
  • Non-motorised transport (NMT) infrastructure
  • Airport-city accommodation and stadium links

If your business involves transporting tourists, certain licenses are essential, both in terms of vehicle and driver criteria. Apart from the usual vehicle requirements, i.e. roadworthy certificates, registration and licensing, you need a Road Transportation Permit (also known as a Public Operating License) for your vehicle(s) before you may transport passengers for reward.

Operating licences are valid for a maximum of five years and are issued by your local transportation board. Drivers of vehicle that transport paying passengers also need a Public Driving Permit (PDP).

Travel Agents

A travel agent is a licensed travel product retailer that provides travel information, reservations and other forms of assistance to consumers, companies and groups in making travel arrangements. The main function of the agent is to sell the temporary use of transport (air, rail, road and water), accommodation, tours and other associated services.

As a travel agent you can offer a wealth of information and experience to tourists. Travel agents can assist tourists with flights to and from South Africa and her neighbouring countries, as well as special package tours, day trips, transportation and any other travel needs they might have.

Tour Operator

A tour operator is an individual or organisation in the business of (bulk) buying, and then bundling, the various components make up a package holiday, for sale via a travel agent or direct to the consumer.

The tour operator transports paying tourists on scheduled itineraries and make arrangements for their clients in terms of accommodation, transport and excursions. These businesses often own vehicles to transport tourists and the owners of these enterprises often accompany tour parties.

There are three categories of tour operators:

  • in-bound tour operators: provide services mainly for foreign visitors to South Africa;
  • out-bound tour operators: provide services to clients in South Africa wishing to travel to destinations outside the country;
  • local tour operators: provide services to domestic clients for tours within South Africa.

Tour operators provide tailor-made tour packages and daily excursions of the region being visited. Whether the tourist is a seasoned traveller to South Africa or visiting for the first time, they can enjoy the diversity of this region with the security, convenience, flexibility and knowledge that these professional companies offer.

Tour Guide

In a country such as South Africa, where transport is not so easily accessible for tourists, an opportunity for tour guides exists to get tourists around to various destinations.

A tour guide is any qualified person who, for monetary or other reward, accompanies people who are travelling through any place within the country and furnishes those people with information or comments regarding the places or objects visited.

Registered South African Tour Guides provide personal attention and the experience and knowledge of South Africa that only a native can offer. Tourists can opt to see well-known South African tourist attractions or visit "off the beaten track" locations, which will them to experience the "real" South Africa while sampling local hospitality and avoiding the masses of the tourists.

If you would like to be contracted or employed as a tour guide, you must be registered with the Tourist Guide Registration Office of the Department of Economic Development and Tourism in your province.

You can register whether you are new to the industry or if you are a guide whose registration has lapsed. Before you can register, you must complete tourist guide training, through an accredited training organisation.

Hospitality (accommodation and food and beverages)

This sector deals with provision of accommodation, e.g. bed and breakfast, guesthouse, self-catering, youth back-packer hostels, motel, hotel, etc. If you open or run an accommodation establishment, restaurant, coffee shop, pub, tavern or shebeen where food is served, you must have a valid business or trade licence.

This allows you to carry out a particular activity in a certain area, and ensures that your business and the premises meet all of the building, public safety and health requirements. Trading without a licence is a punishable offence.

As a tourism business specialising in the hospitality industry, there are various regulations which the business owner needs to comply with. Make sure you know what these are.

MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conference and Events)

The acronym MICE stands for (Meetings Incentives Conferences Exhibitions / Events) and is defined as the gathering of people in the most succinct and acceptable manner worldwide. The MICE industry is often overlooked, but as South Africa is becoming more renowned in the international arena, the need for this kind of business in tourism is becoming more essential.

The primary objective of this sector is to arrange and/or host meetings and other events such as exhibitions. 

Tourist attractions

With an array of destinations to visit, there is much for tourists to see and do. They can visit South Africa's touristsguys.jpgattractions on day excursions with the added benefit of the experience and knowledge of a registered guide.

There is a select group of professional guides who can also arrange various adventure, leisure and sporting activities, including wine tasting tours, hot-air ballooning, diving with great white sharks; elephant back safaris and game viewing. The options are endless and can be tailored to your personal interests and budget.

Putting all of the above components together constitutes a tourism product that can be marketed internationally, thus creating a great tourism business. So what do you think? Does the tourism industry sound like one you'd fit into?

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