As of December 1, commission levels at SANParks camps will not only be determined by the revenue an operator brings in in terms of bookings, but also according to the average occupancy of the camp booked, in the hope that it will encourage a better spread of tourists across the different parks.
I read this letter with interest and dismay. What bothers me about this is that it will not have the desired effect of spreading occupancy and relieving pressure from the most popular camps and parks. The trade accounts for only a small percentage of SANParks’ turnover. It would make much more sense to increase rack rates across the board at over-subscribed parks and camps, while providing incentives to both trade and direct booking channels for lower occupancy parks and camps, by lowering rack rates. For example, one could price a two-bed bungalow in high-occupancy camps like Satara or Lower Sabie at R1 400 (€98) a night, while pricing the same bungalow in Pretoriuskop or other less popular camps at R1 000 (€70) a night. This would improve the spread if it applied to everyone. But maintain decent commissions to the trade.
What this new commission structure does is give the middle finger to the travel trade as a thank-you for their loyal support. We do a lot of business with SANParks and have supported them for many years. For those camps and parks we use the most (most demand from international tourists), the new structure will see us drop in commission from 20% to 10% in spite of annual turnover well above R1 million (€70 170). A 10% drop on R1 million is R100 000 (€7 017) in lost revenue for us. That is huge for a small tour operator. Meanwhile on our Kruger Park safaris, we pay out 20% commission to our agents abroad (which some agents complain is still too low for them). Yet now we have to absorb a drop in commission from 20% to 10%, or change to using camps like Pretoriuskop, which will quite simply result in us selling fewer safaris because many guests do not want to stay there.
Why do our guests not want to stay in Pretoriuskop? Because it is well known that the game viewing in that area is disappointing (sour veld) and huge numbers of day visitors arrive through Numbi gate each day, which means the congestion of OSVs and other vehicles is worse in that area, especially during peak season. The route options and game viewing around areas like Lower Sabie, Satara and even Skukuza are much better than around Pretoriuskop, Berg en Dal or other less popular camps in the Mopani veld further north. This is not rocket science. Kruger competes with prime safari destinations like the Serengeti. International tourists want to stay where the game viewing is best, and you're attempting to incentivise tour operators to book them into areas where the game viewing cannot compete with other safari destinations in Africa. This is short-sighted.
If this approach succeeds and more operators book their guests into these low-occupancy camps, the vehicle congestion problem in areas like Pretoriuskop could become worse. However, I think the impact on occupancy spread will be minimal because this only affects tour operators, not the self-drive public who are well informed and also prefer the most popular camps, for good reason. Give self-drive tourists a financial incentive to book into low-occupancy camps, and it might have an effect. Right now it is only the tour operators, who market our national parks and our beautiful country and want to show international tourists the best of the best, who are being penalised.
Pity that SANParks did not bother to consult with their loyal trade partners before coming up with this ‘business decision’. Had they consulted with us, we would have advocated for a similar strategy, but based on rack rate differentiation as explained above, instead of revised commission percentages. At least that would then apply to all park users, instead of having a detrimental effect on the trade. I find it hard to swallow that one can send over a R1 million worth of business each year to camps like Skukuza, Lower Sabie and Satara, bringing in thousands of international tourists to the country's best safari region, and then get bumped down to a paltry 10% commission from SANParks. It is an insult to the trade, really. And very short-sighted in my opinion.
Of course SANParks has a mandate to maximise its revenue and try and improve occupancies at less popular camps and parks, but there are better ways of doing it. As a government organisation, SANParks also has a mandate to boost job creation, support the economy and promote international inbound tourism by supporting the trade partners who market our destination and our national parks to overseas tourists. This approach will not result in better occupancy spread, it only marginalises and penalises the trade and harms inbound tourism, in my view. Please, SANParks, consult with your trade partners. You may find our mutual goals overlap more than you think, and together we can find win-win solutions.