In a bid to kick start travel to South Africa from China, South African Tourism is hosting the 2021 China Virtual Road Show and Virtual Fam this week (September 13-17) to reconnect Chinese buyers with the South African trade while testing market readiness.
The road show is an online B2B matchmaking event that will link South African product owners with Chinese trade partners who package South African products and experiences. It allows for one-on-one virtual meetings via video call and chat on any device.
The fam will see South African exhibitors virtually showcasing their updated products to Chinese buyers. Both events are fully bilingual (English and Mandarin) and translation services will be available upon request. Schedules run daily between 15h00 and 18h00 China time (09h00 and 12h00 SA time).
Speaking with Tourism Update, SA Tourism Acting CEO, Sthembiso Dlamini, said following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, any kind of platform where sectors could interact now was such a win in itself. In 2019 expectations for a road show of this kind would have focused on numbers, matchmaking and conversions, she said, but now the goal was simply to initiate the conversation and demonstrate that South Africa was open for business. She said over 1 000 buyers from China were ready to explore the opportunities and products on offer for both leisure and business travellers.
“We plan to get the conversation going, particularly with our channel, because they play an important role in the sector recovery. They are the ones who assist us to sell the destination. Most importantly, also, the road show is to give that confidence that we still have product available in South Africa to be packaged and sold to the Chinese market,” she said.
Dlamini was hopeful to see the collation of South African products that had survived the pandemic, and believed the event would inform supplier development by giving a sense of market changes and traveller requirements. “We are also conducting an audit with the private sector in terms of how we can develop our supply side. It starts in October and will be led by the Tourism Grading Council to assess what accommodation, experiences and attractions are still in existence and how we can assist. We can’t create sustainable demand if we don’t have a readily available supply side.”
The road show will also be an opportunity to promote Africa’s Travel & Tourism Summit (September 20-21) to the Chinese market.
Opening up possibilities
Dlamini believed the roll-out of the e-Visa later this year would play a crucial role in enabling and unlocking the full potential of China as a key source market for SA as well as supporting the sector’s recovery.
Making access to South Africa easier had been in discussion for some time, she said, as one of the key enablers to tourism growth. “China is one of our biggest source markets. We’ve barely scratched the surface. If you look at our numbers, we are hitting 100 000 out of a population of a billion plus.” She hoped to double these numbers.
She said competitors such as Australia and New Zealand were doing a lot from private and government sectors to tap into the Chinese market and prepare themselves as destinations to receive these travellers. “One of the key things we are doing is ensuring that it is easier for Chinese travellers to decide that they would like to visit SA without having to wait for weeks to get visas, which can take away the joy of the travel and vacation.”
Linked to ease of accessibility was sufficient airlift, which was currently a pain point, she said. “We are working on this and meeting with airlines to ask those difficult questions.” At the centre of it all, however, was how to make it easier for Chinese travellers to visit SA without having to bear the burden of multiple connections and layovers.
COVID-19 had opened up opportunities for people to work remotely from anywhere, she said. “We are hoping to pick this up as a trend in the Chinese market so we can position South Africa as a long-stay destination where people can work and vacation at the same time. It will give us better leverage because we have the type of infrastructure to enable that.”
Advances in digital and virtual technologies were also inspiring new possibilities for visitors to be more creative in terms of the type of holidays they created for themselves in South Africa, she said. Experiences were evolving beyond only visiting iconic spaces or things. Visitors wanted to share how the people of South Africa lived their lives or expressed themselves through art, music, culture and food.
During the pandemic, however, the critical aim was still to reassure industry professionals and travellers that the destination adhered to stringent health and safety protocols and that a reasonable vaccine roll-out had been facilitated. “These COVID-19 protocols give confidence to the rest of the world, including China, that South Africa is serious about managing the health and safety of our citizens and our travellers.”
The recovery of travel and tourism was not only driven by the government and private sector, she highlighted, but also by citizens. “The question is how do we as citizens begin to send our message to the rest of the world while adhering to the safety regulations set aside by our government to curb the spread of the virus.”
While each source market was unique, Dlamini confirmed that a hybrid road show event would be held in October for the US market (including Canada), as it was showing great signs of recovery. SA Tourism would also be using the Dubai Expo 2020 platform to reintroduce SA and learn how best to engage with critical stakeholders to support the growth of the Middle Eastern market.