In conversation with Social Samosa, South African Tourism’s Neliswa Nkani talks about their marketing strategy against the pandemic’s impact on tourism and the road ahead through 2021.
Stronger after facing and braving the punches thrown at them by the pandemic, global tourism organisations are positive about growth and business in 2021. It’s almost a tool to attract good vibes and pass them on to the patrons. Marketing will thus play a crucial role in the endeavours, as can be seen in the case of South African Tourism. Neliswa Nkani, Hub Head – MEISEA, South African Tourism explains to us how consumer campaigns, media, and influencer advocacy, as well as engaging easy-to-consume content on owned and earned, digital, print, and electronic platforms, will be key to their plans and strategies going forward.
Now that you have opened up for international travellers, what are some of the key selling points you would be highlighting in your marketing communication?
Our marketing and communication approach is extremely focused and targeted – we are looking at maintaining a consumer-centric approach, while also building trust and aspiration, and instilling confidence in consumers intending to travel. Consumers will seek assurance and human guidance as they consider and plan to travel. They should be made well aware of all processes and requirements by the destination or transfer facilities, in order to avoid a mismatch in expectations and allow for smooth journeys.
Towards this, we launched our Complete Confidence campaign, where we released a series of videos showcasing precautionary measures employed by the destination. These efforts intended to reassure and invite tourists. The videos were shot keeping in mind social distancing norms, making for easy digital guides and information sources.
We are additionally looking at videos highlighting safety regulations for MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, and events) experiences, and curating videos displaying precautions that travellers can expect at various other transit touchpoints including international and domestic airports, and car rentals. Car rentals are expected to play an important role in the tourism ecosystem, as a larger number of travellers are turning to self-drives for the assurance of privacy and safety.
People who do visit would do so after a lot of planning and efforts and there is bound to be some anxiety in regards to safety. How do you plan to ensure their efforts would be worth it despite it all? How would this change the way you look at USP of these experiences?
In South Africa, we remain committed to the safety and health of our visitors. Over the last few months, a lot of consultative work and focus has been placed on both, de-risking the sector and putting health & operational protocols in place for the safety of all tourists and employees.
With regards to experiences, I think South Africa has plenty of USPs for the evolved and cautious post-Covid traveller. For example, the appeal of a safari holiday has increased given its natural ability to support social distancing. The seclusion from concrete jungles, fresh air, and the wilderness – all aid in the perfect social distancing experience. Travel consultants are now helping couples, families and small groups plan private and safe vacations to luxury game lodges.
Given that travellers are predicted to seek offbeat destinations, with good connectivity and a large number of activities within confined areas, we’re also looking at heavily promoting our New Regions. For the next couple of months, travellers can enter through cities that have restored international connectivity, so either through the Mother City – Cape Town, Johannesburg or Durban, and use these cities as a gateway to the rest of these picturesque new regions, including the stunning and relatively unexplored Port Elizabeth, Robertson, West Coast, the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal, Panorama Route (Mpumalanga) and Garden Route.
How is India different from other global markets in terms of consumer behaviour and expectations and the marketing communication you have to design in order to tackle these concerns and aspirations? How has it changed because of the pandemic?
Indian travellers are resilient, with a large appetite for travel and new experiences. They may, however, now choose to travel differently – the industry can expect to see a rise in FITs, demands for drivecations, and flexible booking dates.
In India, experience-seeking millennials, HNIs and the family-oriented middle-class segments are anticipated to be the driving force behind leisure travel recovery, while MICE travel can be expected to recover early next year albeit with smaller group sizes. These travellers are now actively seeking safety assurance and good deals – and the competitive pricing edge that South Africa has over most other long-haul international destinations will go a long way in aiding travel conversions.
What were some of the key challenges you faced as a tourism sector brand when it came to keeping the marketing communication and momentum going despite negligible gains during the lockdown period?
During the lockdown period, we noticed an increase in screen time by our consumers, and hence promoted virtual tourism in a big way in order to keep our audiences engaged and continue to remain top-of-mind. We believe that virtual reality can be used as an effective destination brochure. It allows consumers a look and feel of the product, and aids in building aspiration – all at no cost to the consumers!
For example, Kruger National Park, Ulusaba Private Game Reserve and several other national parks are offering virtual LIVE safaris to viewers from across the world. Theses virtual shows enable you to interact with an expert game ranger in real-time! Safari vehicles, guides on foot, drones, balloons, rovers and remote cams all roam the terrains of South Africa, to bring the best possible safari viewing experience to homes.
During the lockdown, we were constantly communicating with key travel agents and tour operators directly through two-way knowledge exchange webinars. South African Tourism India was invested in virtually training over 150 trade each week – across all travel verticals. We have also been constantly engaging with consumers, corporate CEOs and MICE leaders to understand consumer travel sentiment firsthand.
We used digital mediums to educate our trade partners, who ultimately sell the destination. SA Specialist, our fun and interactive online learning programme, has witnessed an increase in the number of Indian travel trade undertaking the training, as trade agents are using the lockdown period to upskill and reskill themselves.
Do you feel there will be a pent up demand for tourism as cities and countries go through unlock? How do you plan to leverage it? What would be your marketing strategy look like going forward?
Yes, definitely – there is a pent-up demand for travel. Our travel trade partners tell us that Indians are raring to travel. We are already seeing plenty of interest and queries for destination South Africa, especially from Indian business and leisure travellers. At South African Tourism, we expect to see Indian traffic to the destination early in 2021, subject to border restrictions and connectivity.
The pandemic has taught us a great deal; people are now more conscious and responsible towards the environment. Travel is changing for the better, and this gives us hope for the future.
Also Read: Inside: The Singapore Tourism Board content strategy to nurture post-pandemic travel plans
We anticipate that the immersive travel trend will continue in a post-Covid world, with a greater focus on sustainability. This means that travellers will be more conscious of where they spend their money, what kind of accommodation they choose, where they dine, and how they travel locally.
At South African Tourism, we have enhanced efforts to make our itineraries, properties and transport facilities more sustainable. We also intend to market our sustainable product offerings and ecotourism experiences, like cycling tours, nature safaris, conservation projects and rural experiences.
How significant were influencers for the tourism sector during the pandemic? How would the dynamics change in 2021?
Travel has been and always will be about people and experiences. This means that personal, visual elements go a long way in building aspiration. Influencers bring in that intimate, anecdotal touch and it works, because everyone loves a good travel story!
Influencers across various media segments and walks of life will be a crucial part of our marketing mix in 2021, as they build destination familiarity and re-instill consumer confidence in travel.
What are some of the key consumer concerns that would be a priority for you to tackle in your marketing communication going forward?
We are aware of the effect the pandemic has on the global economy, and have been repackaging accordingly, with the intent to offer consumers’ excellent deals and discounts. Safety measures are transparent and well-communicated and have been factored into overall packages so that there is no surprise or extra-cost to travellers. In addition, attractive currency exchange rates make South Africa a lucrative, value for money long-haul destination. There are alluring experience options for both – the high-end planner and those on a budget.
We are also in conversation with several airlines to figure out how we can best optimize and reduce travel costs – this will be a huge selling point for the destination.
Prior to the pandemic, we announced the rolling out of e-visas for the India market. While pilot runs were ongoing, the pandemic hit us, thus delaying the process. We want to assure Indian travellers that we are focused on issuing e-visas as soon as possible, as we want to make it as easy as possible for Indians to come to South Africa.