The United States is a noticeably emerging source market for Africa, and tourism players across southern and East Africa are seeking ways to connect with destination marketers and product/service buyers, to inform them of tourism developments in Africa, and promote the multiple attractive destinations and offerings across the continent.

Ronald Mracký, International Advisory Committee Member of the Africa Tourism Association (ATA), says attending tourism-orientated shows is vital. “One-on-one visits are expensive and at times difficult to co-ordinate the meetings over the telephone. For Africa-based properties and operators, attendance of the annual USTOA (US Tour Operators Association) meeting is a good investment. There you meet the development department executives of the major US players, plus convince those who are not selling Africa to do so – something we do on a continual basis – getting more major US tour operators to include Africa on their sales list. Consumer shows are good; however, many exhibitors are hopeful for immediate sales, and those do not materialise that easily. With that said, a presence at major shows creates name recognition among both the consumer and trade markets.”

Mracký adds that email campaigns and continual email contact is essential. This is a quick and easy way to communicate with existing partners, as well as potential buyers, without the cost of travelling for one-on-one meetings and exhibitions abroad.

Travel/tourism shows – the connective tissue

US buyers are participating in a number of travel shows to explore African tourism and travel products and services. “Southern California, being the top US long-haul leisure travel market, as well as the cruise market, are continually visited by destinations, properties, airlines and cruise lines from all parts of the world, hosting retail/front line travel agents and tour operators,” says Mracký.

“For South Africa, the annual SAA Africa Showcase is a favourite. The Southern California Africa Tourism Association (SoCalATA) typically hosts one or two dinner/seminars a year, hosting Africa destinations, with a typical attendance of 65 to 100 industry guests, and once or twice a year Africa tourism offices host sales lunches or dinners with invites to the local industry. Once a year the Travel & Adventure Show comes into the Los Angeles Convention Centre for a two-day show, where many Africa travel companies exhibit, and SoCalATA has a major booth, typically anchoring the Africa Section of the show’s exhibitors – this takes place in Los Angeles and San Diego – the key US source markets for most Africa destinations,” he continues.

How to capitalise on Africa’s offerings

“The US market is fairly resilient to stock market trends; the stability of their economy creates an opportunity for more low-season travel which we’ve seen being done with the more mature travellers from this market,” says Suzanne Benadie, Sales Director at Tourvest DMC.

Andrea Schaffner, also from Tourvest DMC, and Market Manager for North America, adds that travel is increasingly experience-driven, and Africa – particularly South Africa – is delivering on this. “It is a long-haul destination, and currently the trend is very much experience-driven travel. South Africa is on the list of top destinations for experience travel because we offer so much to visitors. I believe if we use this to our advantage we will draw this market [US market] in even more. This would include highlighting community and outreach-based offerings, which coincides with the rise in purpose-driven tourism, and is typically a priority for an American traveller. As a DMC, we highlight our staff and their destination knowledge and this, along with personal attention, adds value to our American clients.”

Benadie says that to capitalise on Africa’s unique attributes, local tourism players need to constantly ensure great value for money. “Not every US traveller is looking for high-end products; there is potential in the three and four-level product segments as well. Providing small touches such as bottled water in the transfer vehicle, and having US adaptor sockets in the hotel rooms, goes a long way for guests.”

Repeat visits – a crucial US source market

Mracký notes that repeat business is the primary Africa source market from the US. “Whenever we (SoCalATA) do a consumer or trade presentation we typically ask ‘Where in Africa will you go next?’ And depending where they have visited, we suggest other destinations and tell them of the scenic or cultural details of the suggestion. Many times it includes a consideration of the other two major parts of Africa: West and Mediterranean Africa (note that we do not use the term ‘North Africa’ – the reason being a marketing one: in support of the cruise market ultimately moving from the current North Mediterranean emphasis, to the Africa coast – and the term ‘North Africa’ does not have as positive a positioning as it should, excluding Egypt and Morocco.”

With new emphasis by major airlines such as Ethiopian Airlines and SAA, and the emergence of new West Coast hubs, Mracký says SoCalATA is considering an ‘Africa Grand Tour’ concept(s): “To fly to Lomé (ET) or Accra (SAA), and visit there for three to four days, and then continue to either SA or East Africa – to enjoy and appreciate the continent and its many offerings: West Africa with its history and ‘museum credentials’, and southern/East Africa with its National Geographic safari/animal overtones.”

An example from Kenya, and word of advice

Africa-based operators and properties need to realise that they are part of a very competitive international industry, where destination uniqueness and credentials are important, as is the safety, lifestyle, service and recognition (that is to say, visitor bragging credentials at their next cocktail party). Products and offers need to be viewed from the buyer’s point of view, and Mracký says it is vital to review and constantly monitor what the world or specific markets are buying and selling – who their key overseas competitors are.

“With this in mind, what Kenyan Minister Najib Balala analysed is what we all need to practise,” says Mracký: “He reviewed the markets for Kenya and co-ordinated the re-development of Kenya’s sea coast to attract the tourists who, in the past, favoured Africa’s Mediterranean coast and beaches, stating that ‘Kenya has benefited from the North Africa decline in tourism. The Arab Spring has badly affected them. Areas such as India and Thailand have their own issues [and so do] Florida and the Caribbean, with weather patterns changing. People are now moving to Africa’. His analysis reveals another marketing issue – the US market buys into sun and sand, all-inclusive resorts, with luxury or high-service overtones, and river and ocean cruising. Interestingly, both of these are known and rated as to their high guest services: cuisine and wine and a protected/safe ‘foreign’ environment.”