The Indaba backstory

The Tourism Indaba in Durban this week is an exciting event with a challenging backstory.

 Today’s blog is a little longer and covers one of the most important areas that can accelerate success and bring greater tourism benefits to our small towns and rural areas. Please make time to read it as you have an important role to play in this process.

This week hundreds of the top tourism businesses and tourism bodies in South Africa will be attending the Tourism Indaba in Durban. The established businesses and destination marketing organisations will have days with appointments that were booked weeks in advance. New businesses trying to establish themselves in international tourism will struggle to get as many appointments. Although they may be disappointed at their success in creating relationships with overseas wholesalers, they will have gained an amazing insight into the tourism industry and that will serve them well in the future.

The real back-story behind Indaba is the thousands of small businesses and tourism offices who will not be able to attend due to budgetary or capacity realities. These businesses are the ‘forgotten ones’ of South African tourism.

Many of them have invested in tourism in smaller towns and rural areas. These are the businesses that are stuck in a tourism time warp. Many of them provide wonderful experiences, but struggle to make ends meet. They have fallen behind the latest disruptions in the tourism industry that have literally created a new normal.

The experiences provided by these businesses, and those at the Tourism Indaba, are the new marketing gold of any country destination. Current and new generations of visitors have thousands of holiday options as close as their digital devices. Social media postings and ratings sites such as TripAdvisor have literally dwarfed the one-way push advertising and promotion that has brought success in the pre-digital years. These digital platforms are more trusted by our target markets and our old-style efforts are literally swamped by third-party referrals.

The products in our smaller towns and rural areas have not been exposed to these trends and have not been trained on how to structure and present experiences that would turn their guests into their promoters. The new international trend is for local tourism offices and destination marketing organisations to train their local products on providing tourism experiences that result in standout postings and ratings. Instead of spending all of their budgets on direct marketing, these organisations have to become the coach, or conductor, that orchestrates the delivering of top tourism experiences in their destination.

This would be achievable if the local tourism organisations in the smaller towns and rural areas had the capacity to do this training. Sadly, they are largely stuck in the same tourism time warp. These organisations struggle on budgets that allow for little more than to pay the salaries of a few information staff that man the office and try to balance the demands of their councillors and their members. They do not have the knowledge or the capacity to coach their members effectively. While they are incredibly receptive to information and training that would improve their skills to better serve their destinations, this training is limited in both its reach and its quality.

It’s a huge task to coach all of our local tourism offices and their tourism products that deliver our vital tourism experiences. Imagine, however, the wonderful challenge and reward of achieving this. Imagine creating a local tourism team around the country that is focused on one compelling vision and have the skills to turn all of our visitors into passionate promoters of our country, its destinations and its products.

Sadly, at every level of government, the concept has been given little attention and it is business as usual by continuing within the pre-digital paradigm. Risk taking is not part of the culture. A successful country has to engage with the energy and efforts of those who want to make a difference in our tourism industry and embrace a team approach to the exciting challenge of making South Africa the most shared country in the world.

Our competitors are five years ahead of us. Will the local level of tourism ever receive the priority and focus that it deserves? The tourism organisations and tourism products in our small towns and rural areas are waiting expectantly for the promises and actions of the National Tourism Sector Strategy to become a reality.

I love the Tourism Indaba. It is a well structured and stimulating experience for those attending and I wish them well. They may, however, take a moment to reflect that however big they are, the experience delivered by their local level staff are as important to their brand as it is to the small businesses.

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