Over the past few months, the focus in golf tourism has really shifted from ‘if’ the markets are going to open, to ‘when’ they are going to open.
With this comes some concern, as to what, in tourism terms, the long-awaited new ‘normal’ might actually look like.
The lockdown gave the opportunity, unwanted though it might have been, to evaluate the current norms.
One of the areas that came into focus was the fact that the local golf tourism market had, to some extent, become ‘ignored’ by a number of golf venues and destinations which had to scramble as a result of the lockdowns, to fill vacant bed-nights and tee-off times by reconnecting with the local golf community.
Necessity can be the mother of invention, as was proved again in this case, but the temptation to be complacent about the need for change might be a dangerous attitude to perpetuate, even if things do return to anything like the original normal for these venues and destinations, which have become so heavily dependent on the international markets.
This reflection can also apply to other golf regions, which have been ‘left behind’ by the Cape for example, but who should now start thinking about how to get themselves in front of our traditional key markets in Ireland, Europe and the UK.
During 2017, I had a discussion with a golf GM, who was concerned about the lack of traction his region was having with the inbound golf tourist.
‘Very hidden gem’
I pointed out that the region was not promoting and marketing itself to the major golf markets. I said that the region had (and still has) some of the finest and best conditioned courses in Africa. However, it would remain a very hidden gem, if it did not spread its own good news, because the marketplace was not clairvoyant.
However, not only should the golf tourism market here be prepared to look at which markets it focuses on, but also at the ‘mix’ of vacation types available and reasons for coming to the region to play golf.
If nothing else, this process might also help alleviate what has become an over-reliance on ‘golf tours’, with very little else to leaven the mix and tempt the golf traveller.
The East and Southern African and Indian Ocean islands region does not have the historic or ‘bucket-list’ golf courses, of the type or with the golfing history that would tempt an international traveller to visit Scotland for example.
The opportunity within the challenge
However, herein lies the chance to see the opportunity within the challenge. This would see us re-adjust the golf tourism framework to really play to the region’s strengths, key to which are its suitability for family vacations (our travel mantra of ‘don’t just bring the golf clubs, bring your family too’!), and of course its wildlife.
Three elements might be worth considering as we kick-start the golf tourism sector, and as we progress through 2022 and look to 2023:
- Market the region more aggressively as being ideal for family vacations.
- Identify the core non-golf activities that are specific to each area.
- Introduce new travel products and events into the travel options being marketed.
In terms of the latter, and with a little innovation, we have the opportunity to offer distinctive packages that will completely differentiate us from other competitor markets.
In a current discussion, in Business of Golf Magazine, the focus is about how ‘sticky’ events can be, and I quote two examples of events that generated levels of repeat business each year, at the 60% to 80% level. These are statistics that few, if any, ‘golf tour’ can ever hope to match.
In this same vein, we recently developed, and (now that the borders are open again) are starting to market a series of event/tours, that combine the benefit of both types of activities, with Destination Golf Travel as the marketing platform.
In partnerships with various iconic hotels, such as the Palazzo, Sandton Sun, Beverly Hills, and in combination with some magnificent golf courses, golf estates and resorts, including Royal Johannesburg & Kensington, Royal Durban, Royal Port Alfred, Pearl Valley, and Fancourt, travelling golfers will enjoy the best of both the touring and event worlds.
While on a Royals Tour, Jack Nicklaus- or Gary Player-signature courses tour, the participants will be able to travel in a traditional sense, while playing a unique event at the same time.
‘Offer new elements’
To compete with the major markets, and to get a greater share of the more than US$40bn that this market sector is estimated to grow to by 2025, we will need to offer a number of elements as a destination.
Over and above offering exciting products, great service levels, and competitive pricing, we will also need to be innovative and creative in how we package the region to our markets and in the product types we offer.
In discussion, I referenced to a colleague in the UK the local saying here about eating an elephant ‘one bite at a time’, and added that this was not a phrase that he would hear much in deepest darkest Surrey!
As for our own regional golf tourism elephant, and with the opportunities offered by the restart, coupled with the need to be creative – it is now time to take the first bite!