Entropy explained – South Africa’s dilemma on visa regulations

Written by Gaby Gramm, Managing Director and Owner, LuxTravelEx • Online since 15.09.2015 • Filed under Industry news • From Issue 2 - September 2015 - February 2016 page(s) 28-29
Entropy explained – South Africa’s dilemma on visa regulations

South Africa’s advancement as a global tourist destination of choice faced further disruption at the beginning of June as the requirement for children to be in possession of unabridged birth certificates before being allowed into the country was implemented.

While the rationale for children to be in possession of unabridged birth certificates before being allowed into South Africa, this measure – unique in the world – may be justified as a means of controlling human trafficking but doesn’t make sense in the context of economic growth where tourism is a key contributor. These recent developments are a perfect example of the law of entropy, illustrating the effect that questionable policy writing and lack of big picture understanding has on the energy coming from a thriving business sector. The measure of the level of disorder that is created through deterioration and blockages in a changing system, a system in which energy can only be transferred in one direction from an ordered state to a disordered state, is what we understand as entropy. The higher the entropy, the higher the disorder and lower the availability of the system’s energy to do useful work. The term entropy is a measure of the degree to which energy has lost the capacity to perform useful work, leading to inefficiency. A visa regulation that scares potential visitors away from our country is entropy – it is designed to get our industry into a state of disorder.

Businesses are either organic or bureaucratic in nature. In the context of tourism in South Africa, there fortunately are organic organisations, such as SATSA headed up by the dynamic David Frost, that are open because they invite innovation and creativity while seeking continuous exchange with the environment, and aim to show sustainable growth. Bureaucratic organisations are on the opposite end of the spectrum – in this case, our Ministries of Tourism and Home Affairs. They operate in a mechanistic and closed style that is subjected to entropy. Although they proclaim they do, they barely consider their environment and usually ignore the flags and warning signs they are presented with.

Potential energy no longer available for all stakeholders

There are two possibilities why potential energy is not available for work, thereby generating disorder and entropy. We don’t move beyond our comfort zones and keep everything status quo. At this point the law of entropy takes over and then the problems begin because without new input energy and change our businesses will go downhill. That’s it. It will happen. The power comes in understanding the law of entropy, being vigilant and always ready to evaluate and initiate appropriate change. At times, this does not have to be much – a tweak here and a new idea implemented there. In our case, a potential problem of child trafficking, which is minimal in South Africa, could have been addressed without introducing drastic measures that require complicated documentation from international tourists arriving at our airports – and no measures at poorly secured land borders somewhere in South Africa! Entropy is also a challenge in a successfully growing company. When a venture such as our country’s tourism becomes obviously successful, it attracts the international travel trade who want to be involved with us. They expect the success to simply continue and are not seeing themselves as responsible for contributing to the future success of the venture. So if the international travel trade and traveller is aware of problems pertaining to South Africa’s hostile policies and its effect on our economy, they will simply stay away. To avoid this kind of entropy we must be mindful of the way in which we deploy new resources and ideas, new regulations and requirements thrown at our visitors. Its energy can otherwise be diffused, averaged down and unfocused. When this happens, a company’s culture – our tourism offering – begins to shift.

How to take control over entropy?

Information gathering is how we learn new things and gain new perspectives. In a very interesting book, Most Human Human by Brian Christian, it is suggested that in each case we will gain the most insight when asking the question to the person of whose answer we are least certain. We should be seeking out high-entropy information to learn new things at a faster, more efficient rate. Don’t tell us something we already know. Rather tell us something we don’t know and seek advice from the people that will give you the best insight. It is of course always more pleasant to talk to people whose views we agree with and share. At the outset of the implementation of this visa regulation, the Department of Home Affairs announced it would consult with industry players and form a task group – this never happened.

Breaking organisational routines

The other way to beat entropy is to develop positive energy from teams of people that create a force greater than the degrading force of entropy. The work of a task team spearheaded by the ministry of Home Affairs and Tourism to work through the issues and challenges together with tourism representatives, could have beaten entropy. Entropy cannot establish itself when adapting implementation measures and changes keep coming. The disruption and disorder this creates makes continuous improvement efforts more important. The numerous inconsistent messages from government authorities about how the implementation of the unabridged birth certificates should have be handled have been clumsy and have not provided anyone the reassurance that the department is in control. The general cause and effect of this issue and the highly-disruptive changes to a well-functioning tourism business sector are increasing the level of entropy and leading to further inefficiency within the main stakeholders operations – the Department of Home Affairs, Department of Tourism, and various Tourism associations involved – because the system does not have the energy to do any useful work.

The tourism industry, which has been growing steadily – more than any other business sector in the country – will now have to deploy new resources to counter the effects of the new visa regulation, affecting its capacity and generating significant disorder as a result. Appropriate changes and adjustments on both sides should be initiated to create a ‘useful order’ and balance rather than an unusable mess.

Gaby Gramm is the Managing Director and Owner of LuxTravelEx, which offers marketing and operational solutions tailored to the luxury hospitality industry with a special focus on applying the Lean Thinking methodology in her field of expertise. With over 24 years’ hands-on hospitality experience within the luxury hotel sector, solid relationships with an extensive local and international network of industry players, and an Executive MBA from the Graduate School of Business Cape Town, Gaby has worked on a number of exciting consulting projects and writes for various industry publications. For further information, visit www.luxtravelex.com.

Issue 2 - September 2015 - February 2016

Issue 2 - September 2015 - February 2016

This article was featured on page 28-29 of SABI Magazine Issue 2 - September 2015 - February 2016 .

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