Cape Town - SA Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona, led SA Tourism at Indaba 2017 for the first time since his recent appointment. He chats to us about his outlook of his first Indaba as CEO, and transformation and growth in domestic tourism.
What has your experience been like at your first Indaba as CEO of SA Tourism?
“It took a lot of effort. Sleepless nights have gone into setting up this event. We wanted to make a very bold statement that South Africa takes tourism very seriously - to the extent that we invited the president to be the one to open Indaba. This sends very positive signals around how the country is putting effort behind tourism. Tourism is part of the national development plan - a high priority sector – and we wanted to bring that to life,” he says.
Ntshona says it’s important that Indaba is positioned as a pan-African conference and is not just about South Africa.
“The world still sees Africa as one country. For instance two years ago when there was an Ebola crisis, the world believed that all of Africa has Ebola, no matter how much we say that London is actually closer to West Africa than South Africa, but they still looked at us as one entity.
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“For these reasons we need to work together in order to drive our growth. There are about 1.2 billion global international arrivals – Africa only gets about 5% of that. These are some of the indicators so that we drive Indaba effectively,” says Ntshona.
Tourism trends in Africa and what SA Tourism plans to do
“If you look at trends, you will see that tourists are looking for what the locals do … People want to eat and live like locals,” says Ntshona.
SA Tourism aims to promote all nine provinces through its “5 in 5” plan. “We’ve set a target for ourselves so in the next five years we want to grow the tourism space by five million more travellers – domestic and international, through leisure and business tourism,” says Ntshona.
“We have been deliberate about our source markets regarding the “5 in 5”, looking at where these five million extra tourists are going to come from. We get the traditional markets – the US, UK, Germany – but more importantly we want to look at new markets - places like the Middle East, Iran, Asia.
“We want to grow the demand and the source market, but if you get an extra five million tourists, we need to ask ourselves if the provinces are ready for this extra capacity? How are you going to spread the tourists coming through? When is the Northern Cape and North West going to get more tourists?” Ntshona poses.
He says “Therefore you have to be very deliberate about where you’re driving tourism.”
“The challenge that we have is also to ask if provinces are ready – do you have enough beds, enough star-graded establishments? Do you have enough attractions and experiences? It also makes sense to have a regional plan – a package that looks at South Africa with attractions in neighbouring countries.”
“Within this “5 in 5” plan is domestic tourism, and we really have to pull the lever quite high because we want every single South African to do tourism,” Ntshona adds.
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“The more tourists we have in this country, the better and well off we all are economically. Domestic tourism is something that we really want to amplify - it’s high on our agenda. Whether it’s events or experiences, we started to think outside the box. For instance, how do we get people to De Aar - if no one wants to visit there then we create an event there that will get people there,” he says.
“We want people to feel ownership with tourism, and then they’ll have a vested interest.”
“If we look at our history, travel is not something that’s naturally ingrained in us. Black people once needed passes to move around from place to place, so mobility is not something in us. We have to create the culture of travel, curiosity and culture,” says Ntshona, adding “We have to make tourism affordable and user-friendly.”
“The more people know their country, you grow patriotism and it’s great for the local economy. It’s about inclusivity – bringing in new players who will make a difference,” he says.
Transformation in tourism
“To appeal to a black market you got to bring in black experiences. There are about 700 properties owned by provincial tourism authorities – how do we concession these out to black people who will operate them?” he says.
“There are some operators who rather chase the dollars and euros and do maintenance during off-peak season. This creates opportunity. The vacuum that they leave can be filled in by new players – it all works around inclusive growth. This growth must be for new companies, not the existing ones,” Ntshona says.
“It’s also important that we bring in new experiences. SA has been leading with the berg, bush and beach – but we all know there’s more to SA than that, so how do we strategically use SA Tourism to bring this in plan and market these?
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“We are going to start by building awareness so that people understand - entrepreneurs see for themselves, they start to participate and be curious about how to make money out of this.
“Feedback from German tourists is to have more young black tour guides. We need to ask who is showcasing the country, who is telling our stories to whom, and how do we include them in this space? It’s these deliberate efforts that we want to drive across all levels,” Ntshona says.
In current economic times, how does SA Tourism plan on growing domestic tourism?
“We want to reframe it - that travel is actually not a luxury, travel is a necessity. It’s a decision an individual makes, if you know what feeds your soul. We are open-ended when we look at travel – we just want people to discover,” says Ntshona.
He says that when you start making people understand that you can travel with a purpose then they become conscious of what they do. “It’s about patriotism as well,” he says.
Ntshona also says that the industry is competing with material goods, but that if we make it accessible and easy, the more people will travel.
“Most tourism economies have a very solid domestic tourism and then overlaid with international. South Africa is the other way around and it’s dangerous - because when the Ebola outbreak happened there was a drop in international visitors, and no domestic visitors to keep the tourism industry going. We have to grow it so that we have balance,” Ntshona says.
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