Tourism authorities have an important role to play in marketing a destination. Tourism Update surveyed our readers to find out where tourism authorities can do a better job and what they’re getting right.

Tourism authorities need to work on response times to requests and also remove the red tape and policies that impede collaboration with industry, according to respondents of a recent survey by Tourism Update. Members of the trade also suggested that streamlining was needed to address a duplication of functions by different authorities.

Respondents said that working effectively together with the different tourism authorities required building contacts and relationships with key decision-makers, communication and collaboration. While there were mixed responses regarding the ease of approaching tourism authorities for collaborative marketing efforts and gaining information and marketing collateral, many respondents said that success was largely dependent on ‘who you know’.

Some 43% of respondents said it was ‘difficult’ to approach tourism authorities for collaborative marketing efforts, but 46% were more positive, with 24% describing the process as ‘easy’ and 22% as ‘fairly easy’, while 11% said they had not tried.

There were similar responses when asked about the ease of gaining information and marketing collateral from tourism authorities, with 41% describing this process as ‘difficult’, 23% saying it was ‘easy’ and 28% that it was ‘fairly easy’, while 8% said they had not tried.

The lengthy times tourism authorities took to respond to requests from the industry was a recurring complaint. Hailey Donald, General Manager at Constantia Valley Tourism, a privately run tourism office, said while it was easy to approach tourism authorities, there was “never really a response”.

Another, respondent commented that while some tourism authorities were helpful, this was only after “immense effort” on industry’s part. He added that initial feedback came without much actual change and action because policies and protocol needed to be observed. The respondent added that collaboration with tourism authorities was difficult as they hid behind bureaucracy and were unlike the private sector, which could “make a decision in the blink of an eye”.

Going forward, respondents highlighted collaboration and communication across all sectors as being crucial to the improvement of operations for tourism authorities. Johnathan Muller, of Trips and Tracks South Africa, said industry should be allowed to speak to the decision-makers and always be kept informed via email. Jillian Grindley-Ferris, Brand and Business Director of Yacoob Yachts, added that smaller players needed to be involved in marketing and collaboration efforts and would willingly do so if approached. “There are a number of smaller attractions, such as ourselves, who would willingly come to the party to sponsor events etc. but never get approached,” said Grindley-Ferris.

Collaboration needs to take place from the conceptual stages, with tourism authorities providing a support function to the private sector and not developing strategies without industry input. Tourism authorities needed to listen to what the trade needs and adapt their strategies to the trade – not the trade having to adapt to them, said Gaby Gramm, of LuxTravelEx. Neo, a Customer Service Agent at Comair Limited, said there was a need to get tourism authorities involved with the community forums, where they could gain insight about the necessary development tools.

Tony Rubin, GM of SAB World of Beer, suggested that, in addition to collaboration, tourism authorities needed to be streamlined. He noted the large number of tourism authorities within the Gauteng region. Another member of the trade, who wished to remain anonymous, also highlighted possible overlap and duplication of functions. “I find that many departments have similar goals but do not communicate enough with each other.”

While there were complaints of response turnaround times and a lack of communication, some tourism authorities were commended for the good work they do. SA Tourism came out tops, with the majority of respondents saying it was the most effective tourism authority. This was followed by Wesgro and Cape Town Tourism. Rubin said SA Tourism had the “most business-like way of working”. SA Tourism was also applauded for its up-to-date website, great campaigns and efficiency. Donald added that Wesgro’s activity within the industry had also contributed to its having being recognised as one of the most effective authorities.

Respondents also commended tourism authorities for providing them with access to information needed for their own business operations. Statistics breaking down key demographics from major source markets were the most popular marketing insight gained. Grindley-Ferris said the statistics provided by the bodies allowed them to vet their own performance and fine tune their promotional strategies. Stats also aided in determining when to include additional products to increase sales during the low season, said Matthew Feltman, Operations Manager at Chavonnes Battery Museum.