Tourism Update recently caught up with Wild Coast Sun GM, Peter Tshidi, to talk about the Sun International beach resort’s first 40 years of operation. Tshidi explains how far the property has come, the arduous process of acclimatising to the COVID-19 pandemic, and his outlook for the future as the hospitality industry slowly recovers and adapts to a new normal.
Q: If you had to sum up 40 years of operation for Wild Coast Sun, to what would you attribute the resort’s success?
A: Constantly evolving to meet hospitality requirements.
From its earliest days as a casino and hotel the property has expanded into an exciting beach resort with an endless array of fun activities for the entire family to enjoy – from the Wild Waves Water Park, which has become a ‘must-do’ on every South Coast holiday, to horse-riding on the beach, Segway tours, boat trips, water-skiing, and paddle boating.
The evolution continues and the Wild Coast Sun is exploring several expansions for the coming years, including a new standalone vacation club like the Sun City model.
Q: How have things changed for the property since COVID-19 first impacted South Africa?
A: Before entering, guests are screened at a security checkpoint where they have their temperature taken and complete a medical questionnaire.
In the casino, Perspex screens separate machines, while every second slot machine has been turned off. Machines are also sanitised in accordance with a sanitising schedule, with cloth dispensers for guests to use should they wish.
The dining experience has changed dramatically: guests no longer help themselves to the buffet but rather they are served to minimise handling of utensils. Condiments are served in sachets, and food that guests can help themselves to is individually wrapped.
In December 2020, Wild Coast Sun introduced COVID-19 safety marshals over the festive season with a view to monitoring the safety of visitors and guests on the property. The marshals are responsible for ensuring that everyone wears their mask properly and practises social distancing. Due to the success of this measure, the resort continues to make use of these marshals over busy periods, which has also provided jobs to those from the community.
The Wild Coast Sun has been given the World Travel and Tourism Council’s safe stamp of approval, verifying that our COVID-19 health and safety protocols in place meet international benchmarks.
Joining forces to combat COVID-19
Q: What is your outlook for the South African tourism industry?
A: The various COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions have heavily impacted Wild Coast Sun’s hospitality offerings. We will remain cautious for the first six months of 2022.
South Africa’s vaccination programme is starting to gain some traction. Although there is still a long road ahead of us, we are optimistic that travel will pick up and, hopefully, as COVID-19 recedes into distant memory, we will see a return to our 2019 tourism figures.
Our hotel is now running at 85% occupancy midweek and at 100% on weekends. We are already starting to receive enquiries for December and bookings are picking up fast.
Q: What are the main challenges to tourism growth and recovery in general?
A: The impact of the COVID-19 crisis is being felt throughout the entire tourism sector and reviving and rebuilding destinations will require a joint approach. We all should:
- Re-establish traveller confidence and stimulate demand with new, safe, and clean messages for the sector, information apps for visitors, and domestic tourism promotion campaigns.
- Formulate comprehensive tourism recovery plans to rebuild destinations, encourage innovation and investment, and rethink the tourism sector.
These actions are essential, but to rebuild the tourism economy successfully and get businesses up and running quicker, more needs to be done in a co-ordinated way as tourism services are very interdependent.
Wild Coast Sun is the first hospitality establishment in the Eastern Cape to offer itself to the Government as a vaccination centre and the second to offer vaccinations, after Sun City.
This type of partnership with the Government and the private sector shows that, when we join forces, we can have a bigger and more meaningful impact on our communities and fight back against COVID-19.
‘Inbound brings prospects to you; outbound brings you to prospects’
Q: Has Wild Coast Sun had to change its positioning in terms of markets and marketing in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: Marketing during the pandemic has had its challenges due to the various lockdowns and restrictions. We are in a lucky position because at least 80% of our business is return business and comes from word of mouth and referrals. We have seen our regular customers returning in a way that is encouraging. However, our conference business is still very slow to come back, and it is purely due to gathering restrictions.
Sun International recently launched its new direct booking hotel reservation platform as a form of marketing to a captive audience.
The new booking engine shows room availability at all Sun International hotels and suggests alternative dates if the ones requested are not available. It also allows users to purchase accommodation vouchers to gift to others.
Q: How important are relationships with the inbound and outbound trade when it comes to marketing?
A: Inbound marketing’s strength is drawing prospects in, getting attention in non-invasive ways, and encouraging buyers to think about a brand or a business.
Outbound marketing helps to attract ideal buyers when used in conjunction with inbound, by eliminating traffic that isn’t likely to yield leads. Outbound marketing works through the more traditional methods of marketing, including banner advertisements and sales calls.
Inbound and outbound marketing are really two sides of the same coin: inbound brings prospects to you, while outbound brings you to prospects. They should and do work well together and are equally not as good by themselves.