To ensure increased sustainability in South Africa’s tourism sector, making it more resilient to external shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry needs to focus more on building its regional and domestic markets.
“It is rather unfortunate that many in the industry have never seen the viability of the untapped tourism potential – from leisure to business events and business travel – from regional or domestic tourism,” said Acting CEO of South African Tourism, Sthembiso Dlamini, in an exclusive interview.
Speaking to Tourism Update, Dlamini dismissed perceptions that visitors from Africa were mostly job seekers or seeking medical assistance and were not interested in South Africa’s multitude of tourism attractions.
According to her, the sector needs to start understanding what it can offer regional and domestic tourists. “Then we need to learn how to dial up our assets and diverse offerings and leverage them to reach regional and domestic source markets.”
‘Keep events regional’
Dlamini said one of the first steps towards increasing intra-African tourism could be to focus on holding more events in Africa.
“It is similar to the domestic markets. They will visit a city or a province for business, for example, and be exposed to what that province or city has to offer them as a tourist. The next step is they bring their families or spouses for a leisure trip.
“There are so many key regional events that take place outside the continent. We need to lobby to ensure more are held in Africa,” she said, noting that the current UN World Tourism Organisation Regional Conference – ‘Strengthening Brand Africa for the Swift Recovery of the Tourism Sector’ – was being held in Namibia this week (June 14 to 16).
The conference was focused on building a strong tourism brand in Africa, she said. “And where better to start highlighting our strengths as tourism destinations than encouraging our neighbours to experience them, by sharing our stories and developing synergies to improve our collective products and experiences?”
Dlamini noted that this needed a collaborative approach from governments and from the private sector.
“There are big hotel groups who have come to the party and actively market to African visitors. This includes the City Lodge Group, which has seen some success in many African source markets,” Dlamini pointed out.
‘Much work to be done’
The idea of increasing regional tourism is not a new one, with Dlamini highlighting that President Cyril Ramaphosa had identified Africa as a key tourism source market in his 2019 State of the Nation Address.
“There is still much work to be done around this,” she said, noting that this included looking at easier access.
“Airlift needs to be addressed and the question of visa suspension or introducing e-Visas,” added Dlamini.