South African Tourism recently hosted 80 members of the Nordic travel trade, who got to experience South Africa’s tourism offerings across its nine provinces. It was part of SAT’s inaugural mega-familiarisation trip for the region, which placed emphasis on black-owned SMEs.

SAT’s Marketing and Promotions Manager for the Nordic region, Abby Swartz, says: “Our focus was on introducing variety to the region’s trade that deviated from the norm.” She says this was done by exploring ways of enticing a largely untapped international consumer base, which seeks value-for-money experiences, as well as an immersion into South African culture and its people.

Furthermore, she says, in responding to SA Tourism’s mandate to stimulate inclusive economic growth in the local travel industry, the organisation compelled its destination management company (DMC) partners to work with black-owned SMEs that cover many of the experiences identified as vital for the Nordic traveller but are currently not being adequately packaged by larger product owners.

Septi Bukula, Founder of Seeza Destination Network, a full-service DMC founded on SME collaboration, says SA’s large businesses are generally reluctant to support SMEs. “It’s an economy-wide problem.”

Bukula, who is currently being hosted by Asia DMC on a study visit in Vietnam, says DMCs in Southeast Asia work together with SMEs to open up the country/region, and this is not the case in SA, as large parts of the country, most of which are serviced by SMEs, remain unopened to visitors. “Inevitably, that calls for collaboration, and SMEs that service outlying areas benefit handsomely,” he says.

Bukula believes that, by supporting local SMEs to organise themselves differently and thereby strengthen their international competitive capabilities, players like SAT can begin to gradually bring about a shift in these buying practices, by slowly changing the narrative that dealing with SMEs is difficult. “SMEs need to learn to organie themselves differently, stop viewing themselves as competitors and start to collaborate more. This strategy is followed around the world to strengthen the competitive capabilities of SMEs.”

The 11 DMC partners made monetary contributions to the mega-fam trip, and SAA and the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association were also integral to its success, fostering collaboration and sustainable partnerships.

SAT worked with the DMCs to compile the individual itineraries per province. Each of the nine groups had their journeys documented for purposes of sharing their individual experiences, as well as clients back in their respective countries.

SA Tourism’s COO, Sthembiso Dlamini, has noted a six percent growth in arrivals between 2016 and 2017 from the Nordic region. “This positive growth, coupled with South Africa being named the best tourist destination at the Grand Travel Awards in Sweden in February, puts us on the path to achieving our goal of 5-in-5 [five million additional international and domestic tourist arrivals in five years] and is testament to the fact that South Africa has what consumers from the Nordic region are looking for,” she says.