September is National Tourism Month in South Africa, and aims to celebrate the country’s tourism industry and the value it adds to the economy. In this article, I share my views on the importance and value of a well-run tourism industry. By Claus Tworeck.
Statistics South Africa reports that tourism contributes about 3% to the economy and that 4,5% of the workforce is directly employed by the industry. This means that every one in 25 people you meet in South Africa works in tourism.
Tourism in South Africa
From a global perspective, South Africa is in a good place. We have a fantastic reputation as a tourism destination and factors such as our currency, climate and time zone make it very attractive for foreigners to visit. In addition to this, most major airlines now fly two or three times a week directly to Cape Town and air carriers don’t provide this volume of seats unless there is a big demand, so we’re expecting a bumper of a summer season.
After a year where commodity markets fell and exports are low because of drought, tourism is at the moment the best-positioned industry to drive foreign exchange. This is a quick win, because if you have a good season like we are anticipating, the money will flow in naturally.
At my company, City Sightseeing, we see ourselves as enablers of the tourist experience. We offer a quick overview of Cape Town and Johannesburg, highlighting the best things people can experience while they are in these cities, and thereafter we see it as our mission to get them off the bus to actually experience it. Our mission is to tell people where to look and what’s available; then it’s up to them to make decisions as to where they want to go and spend time.
How to build a reputation for becoming a global tourism destination
There’s a new trend for visitors to want urban experiences by actually getting to know the locals and getting a glimpse of authentic life in the destination. Getting to know the local people also plays a major role in visitors’ perception of a country. South Africans are very warm-hearted and friendly. There are not many countries where customs officials greet visitors with a big smile on their faces, sharing a laugh and a joke. This regularly happens at South African airports. A tourist’s experience starts with that first interaction, and you can’t find anything more authentic than that.
Developing the tourism industry
Tourism is not about the product on offer; it’s about how the product is offered. When I visit a place, I want a “real” experience. Camps Bay beach has a great view, but is not a tangible experience. What is a tangible experience is standing at the Camps Bay bus stop and interacting with the bus stop marshall, who tells me a story about his children, or allows me to get a real glimpse into a real life in South Africa.
It’s important that any tourism business views its staff not as a commodity, but as its key asset. The easiest way to develop the industry is by developing employees and enabling them to not only become ambassadors for their particular brand, but ambassadors for their city and country.
Tips on joining the tourism trade
This is an all or nothing business. The tourism market is competitive, so you have to differentiate yourself from the rest. Having said that, tourism relies on relationships with your competitors, partners, staff and, of course, the clients. I make it my mission to be on my own tours at least once a month, so that I can see what the audience is doing on the bus, how they are reacting to the guiding system, and what is happening on the roads, the pavements and at the stops.
We then also encourage as much feedback as possible, whether it’s via email, a telephone call or a review, in order to improve the experience as much as possible for the customer. Then, we work with our partners and fellow businesses. There is an expression that says “a rising tide lifts all the boats”. So when the tide comes into the tourism harbour, it’s important that when your ship goes up, you take the others with you.
You cannot only focus on building your own business or brand, you are a representative of brand South Africa. After all, the mission we all have is to turn every tourist into a brand ambassador for our country, spreading their good experiences across the globe.
About the author: Claus Tworeck is the CEO of City Sightseeing − a Cape Town based company that has been in operation since 2002 − and the first bus company in South Africa to be certified carbon neutral. City Sightseeing offer tours around Cape Town and Johannesburg with “hop-on, hop-off” buses that allow visitors to enjoy all the must-see sights and attractions in their own time. Buy tickets here to enjoy a special online discount or visit www.citysightseeing.co.za
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