Everything You Need to Know to Start a Tourism Business In South Africa

Updated on 30 June 2018

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It’s important to adhere to the regulations of your selected industry, should you open a business. It’s the same for a tourism business.

An establishment which does not hold the required documentation like a business license, a certificate of acceptability or a liquor license, is committing an offence under the applicable law in South Africa. The offence may be punishable by way of a fine and/or imprisonment.

We look at what requirements you will need to meet if you want to open a restaurant, lodge, bed and breakfast or operating any other tourism-related business in South Africa.


Restaurants, Lodges, Bed and Breakfasts, or Taverns

If you aim to produce, store, distribute, prepare, transport or sell any kind of foods intended for public consumption then you must apply for a business trading licence. It is advised that you contact your local municipality because the requirements for a business license may differ from one local municipality to the next.

You’ll need the following for the business license application:

  • A Land Use Clearance Certificate. (You need to identify the zoning to your property, find out what category your property’s zoning falls into and what development rules apply to you. Depending on the scale of your development, you may be required to schedule a pre-submission meeting with your local planning office.)
  • A Population and Clearance Certificate is obtained after a fire inspection.
  • A copy of an approved building plan of the interior of the premises.
  • A Certificate of Occupancy.
  • An application for Certificate of Acceptability.
  • A Liquor License (if you want to sell liquor on premises)
  • A certified copy of the business owner’s ID
  • A certified copy of the managing director or main staff member’s ID
  • Apply for your establishment’s site inspection from the Department of Health. Inspection is done by Health and Safety Inspectors.


Level Up Your Establishment

The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA) has an international accepted Star Grading system to indicate levels of quality, comfort and service at the establishments they assess. You apply for star grading after your business is in operation.

According to Darryl Erasmus, Chief Quality Assurance Officer at TGCSA, the star grading system allows us to position South Africa on a global platform as a quality destination.

You may apply online to get an internationally accepted Star Grading from the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGSA) and have your establishment assessed. You apply online at www.tourismgrading.co.za, settle your account and an assessor will contact you. Once approved, you’ll receive a Grading Certificate and a Grading plaque.

On the website, when applying, choose one of 11 categories to identify your tourism business, namely:

  • Hotel
  • Game Lodge
  • Lodge
  • Bed and Breakfast
  • Guesthouse
  • Country House
  • Self-Catering – Shared Facility
  • Self-Catering – Exclusive Facility
  • Hostel or Backpacker
  • Caravan and Camping Facility
  • Meeting | Exhibition | Special Events Venue (MESE)

An establishment is assessed on the following:

  • The exterior of the building and grounds
  • Bedrooms
  • Bathrooms
  • Public Areas
  • General Facilities

Fees for a Star Grading

The fee is calculated using the chosen category, the number of rooms the establishment has and the average daily rate of the property.

If you Cannot Afford the Grading Fee

The TGCSA in association with the National Department of Tourism offers grading support incentives which allow properties to get up to 90% off their annual grading fee. Visit the website www.tourismgrading.co.za to find out more.

Applying for Grading Support Initiatives

You need the following if you want to utilise the incentive discounts:

  • A copy of a current and valid SARS Tax Clearance Certificate;
  • A copy of relevant business registration documents i.e. company registration document (for CCs and Private Companies)/ Partnership Agreement (for Partnerships)/ Trust Deeds (for Trusts)/ Identification Document (for Sole Proprietors);
  • A certified copy of your B-BBEE certificate or an affidavit in the case of Exempt Micro Enterprise (EME) or Qualifying Small Enterprise with more than 51% black shareholding); and
  • A copy of public liability insurance documents.

Star Grading Levels

Each star grading level has a set of minimum criteria that are required to be met and found in place at the property.

Other Legal Requirements for Tour Businesses

To erect a road sign in the road reserve area to advertise your business, you need approval from:

  • Department of Transport in the case of national roads;
  • The Facility Signs Committee in the Provincial Department of Transport in the case of secondary roads;
  • The Local Municipal Engineer in the case of local roads within a Local Municipality area.


Transport and Tour Operators

To operate a transport business in the tourism sector:

  • Apply for a Road Transportation Permit from the Department of Transport. The application must be made to the Local Transportation Board. You need to be clear on your application that you will be transporting tourists and mark clearly the route that will be used.
  • Apply for Professional Drivers Permit. You need to have a valid driving licence according to the vehicle you are driving.
  • Get a qualified tour guide to travel with tourists when they get to South Africa.

To trade as a:

A tour operator: this is someone who makes all the arrangements for the tourists. You should enroll with an institution that offers a tour operator course and affiliate with the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association.

A tour guide: this is someone who travels with the tourists from their place of arrival to all the places they would like to visit in South Africa. A tour guide will apply at his or her provincial tourism office. Documents a tour guide needs to operate legally are:

  • certificate of a first aid course
  • a copy of your work permit if you are not a South African citizen
  • certified copies of your qualifications
  • current registration details of tourism associations you’re linked with
  • a signed copy of a code of conduct (obtainable from the Provincial Registrar)

Sources: South African Tourism, Tourism Grading of South Africa, KZN Tourism and the Western Cape Goverment site.

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