London – The South African tourism industry must be careful not to position itself simply as a cheap destination for international tourists, SA Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona told Fin24.
He was part of a delegation representing SA at the World Travel Market (WTM) London last week.
"WTM London is important for SA Tourism (SAT), because the country can benchmark itself against its peers from around the world. Consumers have a choice and can go anywhere," explained Ntshona.
"But we are careful not to position ourselves as a cheap destination, otherwise you commoditise your destination and it just becomes all about the cheapest prices."
For Ntshona and SAT it is more important to position SA to international tour operators and travellers as a value for money destination and differentiate it in terms of product offerings.
"It is about the business of tourism, about really understanding the opportunity and impact tourism has on the economy," said Ntshona.
"SA has been resource driven around mining and manufacturing, but now we want to diversify our revenue streams as an economy and this includes increasing the potential of tourism."
To put the tourism industry and its potential for SA in perspective from a global point of view, Ntshona pointed out that in 2017 tourism grew by 7% and 130 million Chinese undertook international travel last year. SA still gets less than 100 000 of the Chinese source market, for instance.
He emphasised that the modern day traveller is moving away from "just snapping pictures". It has become all about "immersion". They want to be with local people and experience a destination like the locals.
"Tourists want to leave with a sense that their travel has opened up their eyes to diversity or an understanding of other cultures and people around the world," explained Ntshona.
"From a business side, we cannot sell SA to tour operators and international travellers in the same way as it was done years ago. We have to use technology to provide the international tourism industry with a taste of what it can expect in SA and also use it to establish the needs and likes of international tourists so we can become like their bespoke travel agent when packaging our tourism offering to them."
In his view, this offering must also include investment in activities and adventures for tourists. SA’s tourism offering must appeal not just to the traditional profile of older tourists, but also to the younger generation of travellers.
As for safety and security, Ntshona said SAT works with the SA Police Service in this regard as any incident involving a tourist creates a negative image of SA as a destination. He added, though, that many visitors to SA, especially from the UK, are repeat visitors and they would not have come back if they did not feel safe.
Two areas Ntshona believes can help SA to create even more international tourism opportunities are removing some visa barriers and convincing more airlines to fly directly to SA’s big cities. He is happy with British Airways’s new direct flight from London to Durban; with Austrian Airlines’s new direct flight between Vienna and Cape Town; and Alitalia’s new direct flight between Rome and Johannesburg.
* Fin24 was a guest of SA Tourism at WTM London.
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