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International tourism to SA in decline. Can it be salvaged?

Problems in the minds of international tourists include water shortages, distance to travel and their safety, explains Nathalie Schooling from nlighten.

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?

Read: SA’s international tourist arrivals ‘not looking good’

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.

Read: Unabridged birth certificates not necessary for minors travelling to SA

5 000 new cops, 1 500 tourism monitors hit SA streets

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.

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Think about it from an international tourist’s point of view: an expensive long-haul flight, 11 hours in the air, only to arrive and face European levels of pricing in many Cape Town establishments, and not to mention huge levels of crime. Hardly an attractive proposition if hotels and restaurants are going to gouge you and you’ve got to fork over thousands for the long flight and face the crime.

We recently had a beautiful young lady tourist from Europe visiting us and a few sites around SA .
The tour operator who she was touring with wanted to put her up in a backpackers in Fox st Johannesburg, for crying in a bucket.
We told her under no circumstances was she to stay there.
I mean what does somebody like this do in that area at night ? she would have been raped or worse.
When tourist friends visit us we tell them not to visit the ”quaint townships”, there is enough danger in the decent areas than going looking for it in places like that.
This govt needs to get it’s act together because people like me are not going to bs our foreign friends just so we make SA INC look good.

Let me start.. you arrive after long flight, in my case in CT. Long queue. Unpleasant Home Affairs employee sitting, well rather filling the counter, who ignores your greeting, no welcome back, and does not even look at you. Unless you are well, you know, then its smile and loud shrieks abound. Then you collect your luggage, and get treated like a potential smuggling criminal by customs people waiting in gauntlet before exit. All along to the arrival hall there are employees, mostly standing in the middle of the passage blocking your trolley and screaming at each other, pardon talking to each other. You get out and openly you are swamped by illegal taxi operators, not locals. No visible order anymore, it looks no management at CTIA, just chaos and free for all.

Long term, a country EARNS tourism by offering an overall good experience. Pushing for more tourism may in fact be counter productive as in the short term there may be more tourists but they could turn out to be negative ambassadors if their experience is not good. What needs to be done is to create an environment in which tourists want to come here and do have a good experience. To do this the government needs to sort out the basic issues such as water, electricity, regulations, crime and grime. Do this and SA will be a sponge for tourists.

Travel inside South Africa is a challenge for tourists. Do a JNB – CPT – Garden route – Durban – JNB hop on hop off tourist train. 1 ticket 1 price, 90 days validity. Shuttles can accommodate transfers from stations. Of course, the stations would need to be revamped, and the trains.

End of comments.

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