There’s a pervasive local way of thinking that if you are pleasant and polite, you’ve pretty much got tourism nailed. But there’s a big difference between being hospitable and being in the hospitality industry, says South African wine and gourmet tourism specialist Margi Biggs.
“Good manners, consideration and attentiveness to the needs of others are essential and without these, you won’t get far. That’s obvious,” she says, “but niceness alone is not a strategy. Being relevant and meaningfully anticipating the needs of those in your industry demand a deep understanding of the environment and, as it changes, recognising where potential pitfalls and opportunities lie and then figuring out how you might manage these to successfully adapt.”
The convenor of the Business of Wine & Food Tourism (BWFT) Conference, now in its third year, she brings to the project her exceptional combination of energy, flair and innovation in seeking to make South African wine and food experiences more relevant, more appealing, more targeted and more competitive.
“South Africans are by nature innately hospitable and that’s an excellent start but the whole world has shifted to an experience economy. So, unless you are giving people what they want, sometimes by identifying what it is they want even before they know it themselves and executing your offering with sophistication and in a way that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable, you are not going to cut it in the intensely competitive world of global travel and tourism.”
She speaks with good authority, as MD of Specialized Tours & Events, a highly successful niche company she founded 28 years ago. It provides smart destination management solutions, from cultural and gourmet immersions to special interest experiences, as well as conference and event organisation for corporate and private South African and international clients.
Wine and food have been key focus areas and while Cape Town was a member of the Great Wine Capitals Global Network, she ran the local chapter. She also has been actively involved in the organisation of the opening event of the wine business showcase that Wines of South Africa (WOSA) hosts in Cape Town for the international wine fraternity. She even found time to establish and run a top guesthouse in Cape Town’s City Bowl for several years.
The BWFT conference will be bringing together a line-up of local and international specialists who will talk on managing and applying big data, building a culture of innovation, how to harness the power of social media, e-commerce, amplifying while protecting local biodiversity and some exciting new ways to create the best in wining and dining.
The intention says Biggs, is to present fresh and inspiring thinking about how to optimally and intelligently highlight local wine and food offerings to traditional and newer travellers, of all ages and origins. “Just because Millennials from Korea are the same age as their counterparts from Khayelitsha or Kansas doesn’t mean they are necessarily seeking the same experience. Our speakers will be exploring nuanced, culturally sensitive, inventive and practical ways of unlocking the huge potential that still lies to be tapped in our tourism market.”
Sharp of insight and pragmatic of persuasion, she’s also compassionately attuned to the huge divide between those fortunate enough to wine and dine in our exciting local destinations and those who have no idea of where their next meal is coming from. Emblematic of her elegant and creative problem-solving is her founding of StreetSmart South Africa that allows restaurant diners to contribute towards a charity that supports street children.
“Often tourists are intimidated by the begging, homeless people they encounter. We’re acknowledging the problem and instead of airbrushing it away, are finding a solution that works for the donor and the beneficiary.” In operation since 2005, StreetSmart gives sustenance, support and educational opportunities to many of the country’s most vulnerable. More than the serving as brains trust of the initiative, she walked 1 100 kilometres as a Camino de Santiago pilgrim, to raise money for the venture.
The former art teacher and Cordon Bleu chef has served on a range of South African business and tourism bodies and has been recognised by the Shoprite/Checkers Woman of the Year organisers, earning the title of Woman of the Year in 2012. This year, she earned a Fellowship Award from the South African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI) for her combination of integrity, intelligence and innovation, along with the importance she gives to social and eco-sustainability.
She is as generous in the time she gives to family and friends because she loves cooking for them. She counts it as one of three great passions, the others being walking and travelling. “I’ve visited 65 countries across the world and that has given me some very interesting perspectives about what our competitors are doing; but as importantly, how people like to spend their time when they are away from home.”
A significant player in the industry for almost three decades now, she believes it is easier for women occupying senior positions in travel than when she started out in the 1990s. At this stage, however, she considers having one month of the year devoted to honouring women as a patronising and paternalistic hangover from earlier times. “We need to detach ourselves from that also-ran mindset. Regardless of gender, if you are open to change and willing to share, you’ll find many opportunities for personal and professional growth. For that to happen, expect the best of others, breathe and enjoy the journey!”
Go to http://wineandfood.co.za/programme-2018/ to view the conference programme and keep up to date with the growing line-up of speakers.
For more information on the conference, or to register online, visit www.wineandfood.co.za.
Twitter and Facebook: @winefoodconf