It’s Tourism Month, a time for focusing on Sustainable Tourism and boosting SA Tourism’s 5-in-5 Campaign. This all-South African campaign has huge potential and is a declaration of ‘war’ on our country’s competing destinations as we endeavour to secure market share from them.

Let’s follow the theme and strategise for our takeover. So, for just a moment let’s picture the success of our 5-in-5 Campaign in terms of the feel-good story of a war campaign that almost went wrong.

In 1775, the American Continental Congress appointed George Washington as the Commander of the Continental Army. Their hope and vision was clear, to fight against the British Army for the independence of America.

The British army was well organised with an established and efficient chain of command and soldiers who were well organised as tight units who had been trained in the latest tactics and skills for victory. The efforts of these soldiers, led by astute command structures, were the foundation of the British offensive.

By contrast, Washington’s Americans had no organised army, just poorly trained and disorganised state militias who did their own thing. These militias had rifles but virtually no artillery. Washington found an army of soldiers where military discipline was virtually non-existent, most soldiers did not have a weapon, and many were just farmers and teenage boys with no tactical knowledge. America’s first soldiers had little understanding of how an army functioned or the procedures and disciplines of military life. His only positive was a reasonable number of officers with previous battlefield experience.

The American forces suffered several heavy defeats as Washington’s soldiers lacked the skills of the British soldiers. He realised that the basis of defeating the rival British Army was to improve the skills of his soldiers and guarantee their passionate commitment to the vision of an independent America. A full winter was spent building and equipping his soldiers for their vital role in the next phase of the war. A few victories for the Continental Army after the winter training resulted in a growing majority of the American colonists coming to support independence from Britain and this fuelled the momentum of the American Army.  After a few setbacks, Washington’s troops won decisive victories and in 1783 Britain granted independence to the United States.

Historians recognise the amazing tactical abilities of George Washington in achieving this victory. Most acknowledge his greatest tactical moment as the decision to empower the potential of his troops that winter and to create a team vision that they bought into. His investment in those who fought where the war actually happened brought victories and swept up the sentiment of the ordinary locals in the towns around America.

George Washington realised the power of those who were involved in the heart of the battle. He ultimately achieved victory by:

  • Engaging directly with all of his troops, letting them know how important they were in the battle and engaging them in the vision of an independent America,
  • Investing a whole winter of the war in equipping them with the knowledge and skills that would allow them to make a positive difference throughout the following battles, and
  • Communicating effectively with his troops and the local colonists to achieve support for the vision and commitment to achieving an independent America.

So, have you sensed the similarities between George Washington’s campaign to take ‘market share’ from the British Empire, and our 5-in-5 Campaign that aims to win four million extra international tourists from our country destination competitors (plus one million domestic tourists)?

The similarities to Washington’s Continental Army are immediately evident. The turning point for Washington was when he trained and motivated his fragmented foot soldiers with a vision that they believed could be achieved, and the training to contribute meaningfully to it.

Our tourism ‘foot soldiers’ are the tourism products that deliver the tourism experiences that will effectively decide if we achieve our goal of five million tourists. It is accepted that the most powerful promotional influencer has become the social media postings and the website ratings from our current visitors. The fact is that our potential future tourists trust these more than our own promotional efforts and that our initiatives are simply overwhelmed by the social and ratings interactions.

If we are to be successful, we should possibly employ the same three success initiatives that Washington did, namely:

  • Engaging directly with all of our tourism products, letting them know how important they are in the ‘battle’ and engaging them in the vision of an initiative that is motivating and that they believe can be achieved,
  • Investing a whole year of the ‘war’ in equipping them with the knowledge and skills that would allow them to make a positive difference throughout the following ‘battles’, and
  • Communicating effectively with the products that deliver tourism experiences, the tourism offices and the locals in each destination to achieve support for the vision and generate a team ethos and commitment to achieving the 5-in-5.

We need to innovate the way we present our products, at a local level, in order to achieve the emotional interactions that lead to influential postings and ratings. Our competitors, from whom we hope to take market share, have been coaching their products in this for years.

Our focus needs to be particularly on our towns and rural areas, whose potential offerings are so suited to creating authentic and nowhere-else-on-earth experiences. Most of these destinations have willing foot soldiers who are waiting to be exposed to a motivating vision and the skills needed to prosper.

It will be a mighty and long fight but we will win the ‘war’ if we invest in our foot soldiers and their local offices. We can convert our fragmented local level into a force that will make South Africa the most posted country destination in the world.

Are you ready to assist our national Commanders? I’m in.

Happy Tourism Month everyone.