Recent data released by Statistics SA shows a 2% decline in overseas tourist visitors to SA between January to August 2019.
Although various factors attributed to this decrease, tourism service providers need to look "inwards" if they are to grow and recover "brand SA", according to Brendon Bairstow-Klopper, director of customer experience company nlighten.
In his view, those in the hospitality and tourism industry need to take turnaround strategies into their own hands, and it starts with getting the basics right.
According to Bairstow-Klopper, many customers will rather spend more money for good service, than suffer through a bad experience.
"Price aside, many tourists make their travelling decisions based on advice from friends and family, so word-of-mouth can make or break a provider’s offering," he says.
"Reaching President Cyril Ramaphosa's target of 21 million tourist arrivals by 2030 is ambitious, but we will see growth by marketing SA with an increased focus on customer-centric strategies and getting the basic principles of customer service delivery right."
Bairstow-Klopper offers six tips to help deliver on customer service:
Personalise the experience
"Good tourism marketing strategies begin with offering world-class customer service, something we are notoriously known for failing at in South Africa," he says. "It's about going beyond the sales pitch for your own establishment or products and offering tailored advice that adds value to the tourist's stay."
Despite things that are out of a service provider's control, such as load shedding or the struggling economy, customer care is always something that can be controlled, he emphasises.
It is often the main reason that people return to an establishment or make a repeat purchase, he believes.
Understand why tourists are here
Ask them about their preferences and offer tailored, personalised, anticipatory-type service, he advises.
Encourage staff to get excited about service
Bairstow-Klopper says in many foreign countries, tourism and hospitality are chosen as professional careers. There is an emphasis on hospitality programmes and hotel schools.
While SA hospitality institutions offer solid training, Bairstow-Klopper believes the commitment to service delivery could be improved upon.
There is no reason why cashiers, waiters and other on the floor staff cannot be rewarded for meeting targets, he says. Incentivise staff where possible to go beyond the call of duty, be it with public praise or bonuses.
"More emphasis is needed on teaching that a deeper understanding of customer service is at the core of hospitality-related jobs," he says.
Be committed to the well-being of staff
Arm staff with what they need, he advises. Training is essential.
Service staff need to understand their clientele, the product they are selling and generally how the establishment should operate.
Be open with customers about how long things will realistically take, Bairstow-Klopper advises.
Always be attentive to how the customer might be feeling. Remember, they are on holiday.
Invest in the tools needed
Invest in the tools needed to create a seamless customer experience.
Don't skimp on things like advanced technology when it can add value to your customer's experience and speed up process. "Just be sure it offers a quality user-experience," he says.
* Compiled by Carin Smith