Can you sell South Africa?

South African Tourism’s Tumaini Leshoai suggests that agents focus on the country’s variety and large Muslim population. SHALU CHANDRAN reports
Johannesburg is better known to tourists, as the Gateway to the country

FOLLOWING increased connectivity and heightened interest in South Africa, the country’s tourism board is planning a series of workshops in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to reach out to the travel trade across the region over the course of 2007.

“We want to bring in South African product owners, hotelier, travel agents, tour operators as well as representatives of some of our provincial tourism authorities so that we give the right expose to our travel agents and use the opportunity to answer a couple of questions about the destination itself,” says Tumaini Leshoai, portfolio manager, Africa & Middle East of the South African Tourism Board. “South Africa has not been a destination that has sold very widely across the region, so we focussed our relationship building around those agents who devoted significant time in selling the destination. We realise there has been an increase in the last year or two – since we last did workshops here – which is why we felt it was important to come back in with a workshop, because we do have new things we have to say.”
The authority is working together with South African Airways and the South African Consulate. “We have commissioned collateral in Arabic and are now making sure we have marketing material available in Arabic as well,” he says. “We are also very excited about the new trade extranet that we have just launched, which is our online portal. Although we recognize that in most of our key markets globally we have relationships with people that are selling the destination specifically, we know that we are not physically able to service every single one of them. The trade extranet allows us to stay in touch with a wide spectrum of people.”
From the region as a whole, South Africa has about 27,000 tourist arrivals in 2005, of a total of 7.3 million visitors. This was tracked on the basis of passports, and typically, does not take into account the expatriates. Leshoai says, however, that he expects to see those numbers grow 45 per cent this year. “However, with the level of penetration and so many new airline routes to South Africa, we see potential from this region. We would like to see the number increase to a stable 50,000 visitors and then growing from that in the next five years.”
In terms of what visitors to the country can expect, then, he says the sheer diversity is what agents should focus sales pitches on and the authority will make available a wide spectrum of packages in 2007.
“One of the things we pride ourselves on as a destination is variety. But I think the scenic beauty that the country offers it is a completely different experience when you live in this region: from dry lands to wetlands to Savannah to mountainous areas. South Africa is also renowned for its wildlife and for being able to view the wildlife in the wild in comparative safety while living in the lap of luxury because accommodation available in South Africa in truly world class,” he says.  On the other hand, he adds, “a cosmopolitan city like Cape Town, which recognised among one of the 50 best cities, offers a broad spectrum, too, from its cuisine to landmarks like Robin island, table mountains, and the point where the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean meet.”
Middle Eastern visitors would find the large Muslim population very comforting, he adds. “There is a wide availability of halal cuisine and other things that are creature comforts.” The other big thing for regional visitors is shopping, he says, shopping of a different kind. “People buy a lot of artefacts and one of the best things of the destination is how affordable it is when you are on the ground.”
Asked about safety, Leshoai says: “We pride ourselves, as a destination, on the fact that crime against tourists it is very low, almost non existent. It is an area we take very seriously because of the ability of the foreign visitors to help us grow our economy quite significantly. There are several initiatives on the ground and one of the most critical ones is making available on arrival to all our visitors a tourism helpline. So the people wherever they are have access to a number where in the event of anything, whatsoever, even if he just lost, can call for help.”