A lot of factors can and do come into play when the travel trade and potential travellers consider which destinations and regions to support, promote and sell.
In the Southern African region there are many such factors at the moment.
Most topical is the negative impact on African tourism following media coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Fears over Ebola have led to overseas tourists cancelling bookings to destinations, not only free of the disease, but also thousands of kilometres from the outbreak.
Politics, and views thereof, can also shape travellers’ decision-making, rightly or wrongly. Public statements, coverage of Parliaments in action, new policy announcements and media reporting of events on the ground all influence potential tourists.
All of these create perceptions that are so often at odds with reality, so, for example, a destination may develop a reputation as being unsafe but actual crime statistics do not back that. Sometimes it is the seemingly smallest of things that can make the biggest of differences.
Tourists are spending hard-earned disposable income and so expect, quite rightly, a warm and friendly welcome.
This does not always happen, as many of us have experienced on travels across our great continent, and word of mouth is a powerful positive or negative marketing channel, to be ignored at our peril.
Conservation, wildlife and community efforts, programmes and investment by tourism players and governments will each get a tick from many foreigners looking into, and deciding upon, where to visit.
Tourists like to believe, and see their money doing good. The flipside also applies – a lack of such initiatives is likely to drive visitors away to alternative destinations.
Visitor-friendly bureaucracies, visa regimes, airport efficiency and processes all influence the visitor experience and, therefore, future decision-making, as well as word-of-mouth reputation and referrals.
Government policies on tourism as a key driver in their economy, will influence perceptions and promotion of destinations, and investment in the sector to develop and enhance tourism offerings.
Economies, currency values and access to, as well as the cost of, long-haul travel in source markets, can quickly flick a market from a good one to a weak one, and vice versa. Witness the current drop in value of the euro and Australian dollar and the likely impact this will have in coming months on arrivals from these markets. How will the current economic crisis in Greece versus the European Union play out and impact on us?
While the improvement in the United States economy has led to a dramatic rebound in bookings from this region, it has, of course, been helped by Ebola media coverage all but disappearing.
International terrorism and extremism and associated violent acts, are now seemingly and sadly a fact of life in many parts of the world and, once again, some travellers will take a view on where may be safer, and tourism operators can have almost no influence on that perception, belief or decision, as conscious and moral choices influence thinking.
Piracy, hostage taking and random violence are significant factors that deter travellers, often from an entire region, let alone one country.
There are other factors, of course, but the point I try to make here is that simply operating and offering a world-class product, experience, service, cuisine and hospitality in outstanding locations, which abound in Africa ... is sometimes the easiest part of our wonderful industry!