Tourism is a Local Economic Development (LED) directive that is mandated by the South African Constitution (1996) and the Tourism Act (1993). The White Paper on Local Government (1998) explores the role of local governments in South Africa, whose central responsibility, as stated, is to work together with communities to find sustainable ways to meet their social, economic and material needs and improve their quality of life.
The White Paper on the Development and Promotion of Tourism sets out a range of roles and responsibilities of local government in fulfilling the function of “local tourism”. With the widespread recognition that tourism is a major growth sector, local government has the responsibility to initiate, facilitate and support the development and promotion of local tourism. In order to be successful in achieving balanced development of tourism in a locality or region, there must be substantial local government input and involvement in tourism.
Involvement can be through planning, staff resources, visitor information provision, direct financial support to large and small tourism infrastructure and management of Local and Regional Tourism Organisations. Apart from planning and developing infrastructure, local government has the primary role of ensuring that the environment that both the locals and visitors encounter is clean, safe, healthy, accessible and stimulating.
The Tourism Act no 3 of 2014 seeks to enhance cooperation and coordination between all spheres of government in developing and managing tourism. This means local government has got a role in ensuring alignment of tourism plans in order to promote growth and development in South Africa.
The National Development Plan (NDP) identified tourism as a labour intensive sector. This means tourism is critical in growth of the country's economy and in job creation. Local government therefore has a role to play in ensuring the growth of tourism by supporting small businesses, having by- laws that are tourism friendly and protection and preservation of tourism infrastructure.
Tourism is vital to the economic and social wellbeing of the country. It provides employment and economic opportunities to communities. Its economic benefit can be wide ranging and extend beyond tourism businesses. Visitors to an area purchase goods and services, injecting money into the local economy. It is a labour-intensive industry and creates many job opportunities. Tourism can provide diversification, strengthening the local economy by making it less reliant on a single traditional base, such as agriculture or mining.