Are we turning enough focus to strengthening tourism ties within the African continent?
South African tourism bodies and private companies are putting immense effort into building relationships with their counterparts beyond the country’s borders. James Seymour, chief executive officer of the Durban KwaZulu-Natal Convention Bureau, believes that South Africa could do more to market to the African continent.
He explained: “It is a region with enormous potential from a tourism perspective. Regional markets will always be critical for economic sectors such as tourism. “A good example of this fact is Europe, where countries such as France and the United Kingdom rely heavily on their neighbours for lucrative tourism flow.”
South Africans, however, do not generally see themselves as part of Africa, according to an impassioned Titus Chuene, marketing manager at Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism, which represents Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch in the Eastern Cape.
He cited the difficulty of travelling into Africa as one of the problems facing tourism growth, alluding to the cycling exploits of extreme adventurer Riaan Manser across the continent, and close encounters with death at the hands of some of our less hospitable neighbours.
Ironically, a predominant view exists in Africa that South Africans are xenophobic.
“During the Fifa (Soccer World Cup) run-up, Africa didn’t even vote as a bloc,” Chuene added.
He has experienced the inefficiencies of African officialdom firsthand: “In Lesotho, I was arrested for driving a minibus without a public driving permit because they thought I was a taxi driver! They wouldn’t accept my explanation that I was visiting on business.
“In Mozambique, my minibus was confiscated,” he added.
Nonetheless, Chuene has travelled extensively throughout Africa, and will continue doing so.
He observed: “Africa is divided into three, consisting of formelry Muslim, French or Anglo countries, yet Mozambique – which was colonised by Portugal – is one of the most laid-back countries. I’m still trying to work that one out.”
Tanya Schmidt, event organiser at Eastern Sun Events in Port Elizabeth, has encountered regular inefficiencies in the issuing of visas by other African countries. “There are constant delays from embassies in other countries to get visas ready for their countrymen,” she reported. “This has often resulted in delayed visas, and delegates cancelling days in advance, especially from Nigeria.
“As African countries develop and stabilise, people are able to consider travelling beyond their borders to come to world-class events.”
Schmidt said that travelling costs presented an issue. “Travelling to South Africa from Africa is only marginally cheaper than travelling to Europe in many cases; and in some cases it, is more expensive.”
Port Elizabeth, Chuene’s home city, has made huge strides in recent years by hosting world-class events such as the Ironman South Africa competition, which attracted many international competitors. The city is making inroads in establishing solid connections with African businesspeople.
In August 2011, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality in Port Elizabeth hosted a delegation from Annaba in Algeria. The visit was geared at strengthening a reciprocal partnership. Upgrading the standards of Algeria’s hotels forms part of this initiative.
Basic destination marketing is another area being explored. This follows an agreement by South Africa and Algeria to establish a bilateral commission, with President Jacob Zuma being a signatory.
Eastern Sun Events confirmed that South African Tourism (SA Tourism) is playing its part. “They, together with the three international convention centres in South Africa – located in Cape Town, Durban and Sandton – and their dedicated convention bureaus, have actively been bidding for conferences and events to be held in South Africa over the past 10 to 15 years,” Schmidt stated.
She added: “There have been great successes, especially in the last 10 years, and this has a long-term effect. The more congresses are held in South Africa, the better South Africa’s image becomes. We are able to prove that we can attract and host any congress, and that eliminates the international fear factor.”
SA Tourism conducted research into South Africa’s markets, which was concluded and released in May 2011. The objective of the research is to capitalise on the success that tourism has achieved within the African market and ascertain what consumers want.
Research findings indicate that tourist arrivals from Africa grew 10.3% annually from 2003 to 2010. Over the same period, Africa’s contribution to the total tourist arrivals to South Africa increased from 68.1% in 2003 to 77.0% in 2010.
The average rand value spent per tourist in South Africa has increased across all African markets. Angola has the biggest increase: from R12 900 average value spend per tourist in 2006 to R22 200 in 2009.
“We are not resting on our laurels; there is more to be done,” acknowledged Phumi Dhlomo, regional director: Africa and Domestic at SA Tourism.
The tourism body utilises the hub strategy approach, with Kenya as flag bearer for East Africa, and Nigeria for West Africa.
The South African Mantis Group and Nigerian Grand Towers PLC signed a deal earlier this year to develop Nigeria’s first luxury boutique hotel in its capital, Abuja. This answers a need for exclusive executive boutique accommodation in Nigeria’s bustling cities. Grand Towers PLC is a leading holding company with investments in real estate, communications, information technology, pension funds and the hospitality industry.
“We are delighted to expand into this new part of our beautiful continent, and we look forward to answering a growing demand for exclusive boutique accommodation in this growing and untapped market,” said Adrian Gardiner, Mantis Group CEO.
Nze Chidi Duru, chairperson of Grand Towers PLC, praised the partnership, saying there is a niche for intimate and exclusive 5-star boutique hotels, where business executives and government officials can meet and stay without the hustle and bustle of some of the ‘main-line’ hotels.
The relationship between the Mantis Group and Nigeria was initiated by a South African interior designer who was involved in several small hotels and grand residences in Abuja. He put Mantis in touch with Chidi Duru, whose vision is to roll out boutique hotels throughout Nigeria’s state capitals.
Growth in Nigeria’s banking and telecommunications sector has contributed to an expanding need for hospitality establishments, servicing local and international high-end investors.
Grand Towers PLC and the Mantis Group will develop over a dozen luxurious boutique properties, starting with Abuja, then moving to Lagos and other popular locations within Nigeria. The Mantis Group will market and manage the properties, utilising its global sales, marketing and public relations offices in the UK, United States and Europe.
Surprisingly, the Zimbabwe Council for Tourism (ZCT) has reported an increase in arrivals into that country, according to Africa Albida Tourism managing director and ZCT board member, Glen Stutchbury. Arrivals are up by 20% in 2011 compared to the same seven months in 2010 from January to July, with prospects even better for the remainder of this year.
Africa Albida Tourism’s flagship accommodation establishment, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, has enjoyed the best July occupancy in 10 years at 70%.
Bodies outside of tourism are marketing South Africa to its African compatriots. Schmidt cited medical associations that have reached out to African countries. Delegate attendance from other countries is growing.
Seymour concurred: “Business tourists are particularly high-spending tourists. They often return as leisure tourists and spread the word to other potential tourists.”
World-class shopping centres are a huge attraction. Sandton City, one of the largest shopping centres in Africa and a South African landmark, bears testimony to this.
“Based on market research, Sandton City has identified that a large portion of tourists visiting the centre are from African countries such as Egypt, Nigeria, Zambia as well as Kenya,” said Sharon Swain, Sandton City Centre manager. “Primary factors contributing to the great influx of African tourists is Sandton City’s location in the Sandton central business district, which serves as the business pulse point of South Africa and possibly the entire continent.”
With Sandton City accessible from OR Tambo International Airport within 15 minutes aboard the Gautrain, the centre is extending marketing initiatives into Africa to address shopper markets, particularly during sale periods in January and July.
The centre is negotiating joint initiatives with surrounding hotels to offer deluxe packages to African delegates and tourists.
Sandton City liaises with the Sandton Tourism Association and the Sandton Central Management District, to create synergies and elevate the node as a hub of global trade, trends and thought.
KwaZulu-Natal acknowledges the commercial potential of tourists from Africa. Seymour reported that key private sector partners of the calibre of Southern Sun and MSC Cruises are attracting the African market to this province.
“Landlocked countries like Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana have been – and always will be – attracted to a great beach holiday destination,” Seymour explained. This included the business tourism, exhibition and incentive tourism market.
He added: “The African Chapter of the International Congress and Conference Association is trying to encourage African members of professional associations to establish regional association congresses that rotate among African countries.” The Durban KwaZulu-Natal Convention Bureau met in Kenya this year to mobilise a regional strategy.
The Cape Town and Western Cape Convention Bureau promotes Cape Town and the Western Cape as a premier business tourism destination. The bureau assists local associations in bidding for international association conferences, and collaborates with the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
Calvyn Gilfellan, Cape Town Routes Unlimited CEO, said: “The big event to promote African participation at conferences and bringing business from Africa to our destination was the International Conference and Convention Association African Workshop held in Nairobi, Kenya this year.”
Amanda Kotzé-Nhlapo, Cape Town Convention Bureau head, represented the Western Cape.
As in KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape wants African role-players to meet more regularly. Kotzé-Nhlapo confirmed: “Better organisation between role-players in Africa means a bigger share of the international meetings pie for the continent.”
She observed that although many conferences are held in North Africa, there is an increasing interest in the south.
“A big challenge for African associations is limited budgets, compared to their counterparts in the US and Europe. More regular meetings between African associations and service providers in the conference industry will lead to networking and knowledge exchange, building relationships and boosting the meetings industry in South Africa,” Kotzé-Nhlapo added.
Likewise, Schmidt stressed affordability as an incentive to attract business travellers from Africa. “We compete with Europe. Airlines, especially low-cost ones, have increased their routes and frequency over the last five years; and, in some cases, their costs. This has a direct effect on the numbers entering South Africa.
“The less expensive we make it for them, the easier our task to get revenue into South Africa through business travel.”