ROFHIWA MADZENA: Tourism is a critical, critical centre for the country as it is for the economy, and we’ve had our [Finance] Minister Tito Mboweni on a number of occasions speaking about the sector needing a boost, so that it can contribute positively to the country’s growth. We have seen that international tourism in South Africa is in decline, and the question we are asking here is: can it be salvaged?
Joining me to answer this question and more is Nathalie Schooling, the CEO of nlighten. Nathalie, many thanks for your time this evening. It’s not something brilliant to talk about as we enter the festive season, and we are expecting an influx of international tourism, but of course the trend is telling us that it might not be as big a number as we would like to see for the economy.
NATHALIE SCHOOLING: Hi, Rofhiwa. Thanks so much for having me on your show, and hello to all your listeners.
One looks at that news, and we have to treat the positive in the bad news. So, what tourism has found is there is lots that we can do.
ROFHIWA MADZENA: Talk us though the current landscape of tourism – some of the statistics and perhaps some of the reasons that we are seeing a decline.
NATHALIE SCHOOLING: Rofhiwa, sub-Saharan Africa receives approximately 2.7% of global tourism. The fact of the matter is places like Rwanda and East Africa are really the flavour of the month. That’s why we are seeing tourism dropping. I think there is a lot that we can do to mend that, and we need to work hard in terms of being the flavour of the month. There are lots of factors contributing to it. We are down by 2% in South Africa in terms of global tourism. Those are the stats that we are looking at,
ROFHIWA MADZENA: What is contributing to the decline? We’ve got Table Mountain, beautiful beaches, really nice sightseeing areas in provinces in the country. You are saying that countries like Rwanda are the flavour of the month. Why are we not the flavour of the month? What is the big thing that is causing that decline?
NATHALIE SCHOOLING: I think one of the biggest things is the water crisis, specifically in the Cape. I think it’s still in the minds of international tourists, and a lot of international travellers are asking whether we have water. Although luckily we have had a good rainfall this winter, it still hasn’t gone down the line in terms of global tourism. So water, for people wanting to come to the Cape, is a big thing.
Another thing is around security – the murders, the crimes. Bad news travels fast; good news does definitely take a lot longer to get there. Also, the other factor is we are not a destination that’s easy to travel to. Things like the Asian market – we haven’t unlocked the Asian market in terms of the problems of Trade and Industry; the current systems are antiquated. So it’s hard for a huge sector of the tourism market to get to South Africa. Then of course we’ve got the unabridged birth certificate – yes, people can now travel with minors. But that again has not filtered to the markets that we want to attract. So there is a lot of work to be done.
ROFHIWA MADZENA: There is indeed. Then we start to speak about the turnaround strategies that need to be implemented to grow Brand SA. What would some of those need to be?
NATHALIE SCHOOLING: Well, there are a lot. Where do we start? I think that, most importantly, the South African government talks about the importance of tourism – but what are they actually doing about it? There is very little accountability and there is very little impetus in terms of really growing a great sector of industry and what we are able to show and showcase in South Africa. I think there is a lot of talk, and not that much action. So it’s about our putting priority on the tourism sector, which I feel is very lacking.
ROFHIWA MADZENA: You also speak about the fact that there needs to be significant investment into the hospitality industry. Talk us through the reasoning behind that.
NATHALIE SCHOOLING: Well, the hospitality industry – I think we’ve travelled along. We are naturally an amazing destination. Our people are warm, and we have such a diverse ability to appeal to so many markets. So I think that there is a huge amount of positivity in terms of our tourism sector. It’s really untapped, and it needs to be a priority in terms of government, in terms of how we get back to becoming the flavour of the month.
ROFHIWA MADZENA: Just a final thought. You also speak about tourism service providers needing to look inward. So a little bit of advice and tips on how tourism operators can deliver that kind of stellar service that you talk about, and attract the right kind of visitors into South Africa?
NATHALIE SCHOOLING: Rofhiwa, there are so many SMEs and small businesses that can do so much with so little. It doesn’t cost a lot. It really is about making sure that your staff are trained on the basics. It’s about greeting, smiling, using the guests names, making them feel welcome. So it’s about training of staff on basic hospitality principles.
It’s also about management needing to roll their sleeves up, they need to be present. They can’t be sitting in their offices answering emails. They need to be out there, talking, and making sure that guests have a great experience.
It’s about giving the staff a deep understanding of why people come here, their expectations and how we can serve them better.
It’s around sharing local knowledge; it’s about sharing industry knowledge about Uber, what the traffic is like, what the weather is going to be like. It’s about safety, how to be safe. Sharing stuff we as locals know every day, and making sure that our visitors are welcome and that they feel that we really do care.
Feedback is so critical especially in hospitality industries, and the management and owners of businesses need to know that it’s okay to have bad feedback because we can grow from bad feedback. And just making sure that the staff know that feedback is okay, and not have that sort of stick approach – more the carrot approach. So it’s about embracing feedback and growing and learning from that.
ROFHIWA MADZENA: Such a little time to talk about such a critical sector, and so many things, Nathalie that have to be changed within the sector because, as Minister Tito Mboweni has mentioned on various occasions, it does have the potential to be a significant contributor to our GDP growth. So many things need to be done there, and it’s not just about the service that we deliver, but we need policy that is conducive to opening up to people who would like to visit our beautiful country.
Nathalie, thank you so much for talking to us this evening.