Tourism by-law has Plett up in arms

Tourism is the lifeblood of our town and tampering with this vital economic driver could spell disaster for Plett

The Lookout beach at Plettenberg Bay.
The Lookout beach at Plettenberg Bay.
Image: Thembinkosi Dwayisa

Thousands of Plettenberg Bay residents and tourism businesses are opposing a proposed by-law which could see the Bitou Municipality largely control tourism in the town.

Some of the issues that have sparked the most outrage include the establishment of a new tourism board; the composition of the board which leaves the decision-making largely in the hands of the municipality; the registration of tourism businesses with a tourism organisation and subsequent fees, charges and tariffs payable.

A penalties clause, which includes fines or jail time for those who do not comply, also has residents hot under the collar.

The by-law suggests that these fees should be carried by tourists, sparking fears that the industry would then become less competitive.

The proposed by-law is open for public comment until June 8, but has already seen massive opposition, including a petition which has been signed by more than 2 000 residents so far.

“Tourism is the lifeblood of our town and tampering with this vital economic driver could spell disaster for Plett,” resident Joanne Barrett said.

She has been campaigning against the by-law.

“This by-law was drafted without any input from Plett Tourism or the Plett Accommodation Association – both with substantial member numbers,” Barrett said.

Municipal spokesman Manfred van Rooyen said the aim of the by-law was not a mobilisation to collapse Plett Tourism, but had been drafted, against the background of constitutional and applicable legislative prescripts, to establish a tourism service utility that would assist in the execution of the municipality’s tourism mandate and the development of local tourism.

The draft by-law suggests a tourism board be established and consist of a representative of the council, nominated by the mayor to serve as chairman; 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.

“The board member allocation is simply unacceptable and is clearly only benefiting a select few municipal officials.

“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,” Barrett said.
The draft by-law 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 a tourism fund.

“Some of the feedback I’ve had from the community includes criticism of these fees.

“Residents and business owners feel that burdening visitors with this will make Plett less desirable and less competitive,” Barrett said.

All tourism establishments will also be required to become members of a municipal-accredited tourism organisation.

The tourism organisations will then have to collect these fees, charges or tariffs from the establishments and pay the funds over to the municipality.

Plett Tourism chairman Peter Wallington said it would be submitting a formal response before the deadline and was engaging with political, business and tourism stakeholders.

He urged all with an interest in tourism and Plett’s future to submit their views.

He said Plett Tourism opposed several aspects of the proposed by-law, including the fact that the municipality would control tourism, and appoint a board and chairman.

He said the proposed by-law would see the board determine the budget and the priority of spending.

Wallington said the by-law also seemed to suggest 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.

He said they also opposed compulsory fees to fund projects determined by the municipality, but supported a funding mechanism for tourism projects.

Wallington added that the by-law was silent on Plett Tourism’s role and who would do the work of destination marketing.

He also said the search and seizure clause and the fines and jail terms for those who are non-compliant, needed to be removed.