Incoming tourism is an export industry. It is most important that we all understand that and it is the creator of jobs and a source of foreign exchange.
On the other hand, while it employs the same resources, the travel Industry does not create new jobs or generate foreign income. A meal at Nando¹s eaten by a local traveller on holiday in Durban or eaten at home in Johannesburg does not add to our wealth – it just transfers it from Johannesburg to Durban. The same meals eaten by visitors from abroad create new jobs and put money into the country¹s bank account. So every effort needs to go into finding foreign consumers of our goods.
To deliver the goods and services that we have to offer foreigners requires a number of basic conditions that are well understood. They need to be able to get here, which requires good roads, easy air access and efficient port facilities. The people in the Cape have shown us how to attract air capacity and this needs to be copied in Joburg and Durban.
Visas, which are managed by the Department of Home Affairs, have been a problem. The shortcomings are, however, understood and they are trying to remedy the situation to create a simple effective manageable and cheap visa for all the buyers that we want to attract.
Security is an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed at a local level. Tourist hotspots, which are many and varied, need to be under constant watch by ‘Tourist Police’, who must be run by the SA Police but funded by the local municipality. Our accommodation – hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs – are generally well run, available and comfortable. Other than the railways, which are shocking, our transportation infrastructure – roads, buses and car hire – are in good shape.
So what do we need to grow the business?
The answer, is marketing.
The first thing required is a marketing plan that needs to prioritise the many and varied opportunities that exist. We need to concentrate our efforts on those people who are going to spend the most in our country. This sounds simplistic. Statistic show us that American tourists spend the most money per capita of all visitors here. This is not true!
A trader from Botswana who makes a weekly trip to Johannesburg with his bakkie (utility vehicle) to stock up with goods that he can trade, spends far more in a year than the most affluent American does who is here for a week or two. So we need to start concentrating on buyers, who come in many and varied forms.
A marketing plan requires a marketing manager who can co-ordinate and finance the many initiatives that are required. The Department of Tourism ought to employ such a person but they tend to get side-tracked and lose focus – like spending money on a jazz concert that may attract thousands of locals but generates no export revenue.
The focus must be on exports and exports only! There will never be enough money to satisfy all the demands that the promotion of inbound tourism requires. Budgets, therefore, are critical and need to be agreed by interested parties.
The Tourism Business Council of South Africa – through the Tourism Marketing South Africa (TOMSA) – collects a small levy from each visitor. Historically, they just used to pass this cash on to the State. They should be a party to the expenditure and contribute to the marketing plan and its budget.
While much of what used to be traditional marketing is still relevant, an ever-increasing number of new opportunities have become available. Popular destinations, for example, need to have webcams covering the action, such as at a waterhole in the Kruger Park. I am not sure that the nudist bathers at Sandy Bay would appreciate being on camera but there are many others that will.
Buyers need to be classified into niche markets, particularly those that bring others along with them. The England cricket team comes with a large following called The Barmy Army, which makes an ordinary sports event something very interesting for the hospitality trade.
This is the job of the marketing department – to define markets and do whatever is necessary to get them here.