For tour operators and DMCs looking to grow their South American clientele, Tourism Update asked some industry experts how best to package for this emerging market.

Factors to consider

It is widely accepted that the language barrier can be a big turn off for South American visitors. Dinky Malikane, Regional General Manager: Americas at South African says: “Especially for the Brazilian tourist, it is important to recommend that the tour operators have Portuguese-speaking guides. Similar with Spanish-speaking countries.” SA Tourism does note that there are a number of local operators working with Brazilians, like Akilanga and Kobo Safaris that offer Portuguese services and work with Portuguese-speaking guides. Julia Louw, General Manager for Southern Africa at Kobo Safaris says: “We provide all of their language service requirements. This is everything from the original booking request through to the service on the ground. They are all provided in either Spanish or Portuguese.”

According to Malikane, another key factor for South American visitors is safety and security. “South American tourists still consider South Africa a relatively unsafe country. It is with this in mind that we have to continue the message that South Africa is safe to visit.” She goes on to say that, in her experience, once a South American tourist has visited South Africa, they realise they could have done it much sooner, and that “the reality is different from what their perception made them believe”.

Louw notes that bad press can be a concern. André Laget, MD at Akilanga DMC and Events also notes that in 2018, as it was an election year in Brazil, the country’s press was dominated by political stories in the build-up to the election, so news (good or bad) of South Africa was almost non-existent.

Laget says flexibility is key when dealing with South American travellers: “We might need to have a more flexible and commercial approach when we deal with Latin clients.” Malikane expands on this idea, suggesting: “For example, Brazilians do not usually dine as early as South Africans do, and normally, on safari services they are the last to go to bed, because they stay drinking and chatting in the common areas of the lodge late into the night.” Victoria Rodenacker, Market Manager for South America, Spain and Portugal at Tourvest DMC, agrees, adding: “When building an itinerary for a booking from South America, one has to look out for booking activities or transfers too early in the morning or booking dinners too early, as South Americans eat very late in the evening.”

South American itinerary must-haves

Sonia Fernandez Carralero, Key Account Sales Manager – Latin America, Southern Europe, Scandinavia and Australasia at Thompsons Africa, says that South Americans like to try a little bit of everything, explaining that trying to push only one factor of a holiday would put a traveller off. “They like to do as much as possible.” She adds that safaris are often the number one reason for a trip to southern Africa. “Africa remains a ‘dream destination’ for a lot of them. Traditionally they have travelled to North American and Europe and they now want to have the real ‘African experience’, something different.”

Louw says they are interested in animal interactions, which not all tour operators or DMCs are comfortable selling. “At Kobo Safaris, we do not sell or offer any form of lion interaction so we unfortunately do not assist them here.” She also adds that shark cage diving is popular.

Generally, it appears that South Americans are less interested in a visit to a township, with Louw and Laget agreeing that South American favelas (urban slums) are similar to what they would see in South Africa. However, Malikane does add that Soweto remains a popular destination for South American visitors to learn about South Africa’s history. “For the Afro-descendants, this connection is much stronger in their journey to trace their roots, sadly erased when they were forced to go to South America as slaves.”

Soweto is popular amongst South Americans in search of their African roots.

South Americans like to try traditional food, as well as look out for a high quality of cuisine. Both Louw and Malikane use Cape Town’s Gold Restaurant as an example. Malikane adds: “Other good examples are the fair Market on Main in Maboneng (Johannesburg) and the Neighbourgoods Market in Johannesburg and Cape Town [the latter known as the Old Biscuit Mill in Cape Town].” Rodenacker says they enjoy trips where fine-dining experiences are included.

Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

Laget notes that a bush and Cape Town combination is still the most popular, with Malikane saying: “South Americans still insist on the duo ‘Kruger and Cape Town’.” She goes on to say that SA Tourism is working hard to try break this pattern. “It is important to showcase other regions, and the SA Tourism team based in Brazil is currently doing this; however operators and agencies still have difficulty convincing their clients to visit cities and provinces that are not yet very prominent.” To this end, SA Tourism has initiated a number of press trips and familiarisation trips to explore the lesser-known destinations such as the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Malikane concludes: “We are steadily and successfully increasing awareness about South Africa, and travellers are looking for different places to visit in the country.”