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Southern Africa Regional Brand Communications and Management Strategy

Following the workshop convened by the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa (RETOSA), during Indaba in May (reported on page 9 of the Tourism Tattler, July edition), a capacity building workshop was held in Maseru, Lesotho on the 11th and 12th of September to increase destination branding skills amongst RETOSA member states’ marketing personnel and thereby improve their capacity to implement and manage the regional brand, writes Des Langkilde.

The workshop was opened by the Honourable Mamahele Radebe, Minister of Tourism, Environment and Culture for Lesotho, accompanied by the Principal Secretary, Mr. Makalo Theko. It was facilitated variously by Tom Buncle of Yellow Railroad, Prof. Ernie Heath, of the University of Pretoria, Kwakye Donkor of RETOSA and Roseana Kandulu of the Commonwealth Secretariat (ComSec).

A total of 25 marketing delegates attended from ten of the fifteen RETOSA member states. Most were from national tourism offices (NTOs), with representatives from tourism ministries and private sector associations, and two regional organisations (Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa and Boundless Southern Africa).

To assess their level of branding skills and experience, a questionnaire was distributed to delegates several weeks prior to the workshop to which nine of fifteen RETOSA member states responded.

From those who responded, some useful insights were revealed:

  • Most member states have no official destination brand strategy;
  • Few member states have a destination brand toolkit;
  • Few member states measure their brand impact;
  • Only some stakeholders in member states use the national brand, other than the national tourism office (NTO) or national tourism administration (NTA);
  • Responsibility for their brand lies (rightly) with marketing departments;
  • Awareness of the regional Southern Africa brand was limited;
  • Confidence in their ability to implement the regional Southern Africa brand was low;
  • Almost all considered that the regional Southern Africa brand could add value to their own countries.

The main areas of concern in relation to the successful implementation of the regional Southern Africa brand were:

  • Need to obtain buy-in from member states;
  • Need to avoid conflict with the national brand.

During the first workshop session, each member state made a presentation on their country’s approach to destination branding and marketing and the challenges they faced from a competitive perspective. From these presentations the following lessons and challenges were apparent:

  • The need to reconcile member states’ national brands with the regional Southern Africa brand – “Experience Southern Africa”;
  • Understanding the relative priorities that should be assigned to logo development (including straplines) and brand positioning;
  • Engaging and achieving buy-in from key public and private sector stakeholders, as well as the media, is critical for the successful branding and marketing of the region;
  • Achieving understanding and commitment to both national destination branding and to the regional brand from leaders – particularly at senior levels in government and the tourism industry – in member states. Ideally political leaders should actively endorse the brands of their respective countries, as well as the umbrella brand for the region, and be the leading brand champions in the region;
  • Collaboration between neighbouring countries, where they share opportunities to offer a coherent cross-border tourism experience;
  • Human and financial resources required to implement branding – at both national and regional levels. Limited budgets require a smart and innovative approach to branding and marketing;
  • Many destinations have similar tourism product offerings and target the same markets, but there is also a wide spectrum of complimentary experiences across the region;
  • There is considerable individual and collective energy and passion in the region that should be harnessed under a shared tourism vision;
  • Continuous engagement, communication and collaboration are key challenges to ensure buy-in and participation of all key stakeholder groups.

Brand Communications Strategy
A first draft of the Regional Brand Communications and Management Strategy was circulated to delegates at the workshop.

The overall aim of the regional brand is to enhance the global visibility and awareness of Southern Africa as an attractive and multi-faceted tourism destination and thereby:

  • Improve the region’s competitiveness
  • Ensure the sustainability of the tourism sector
  • Contribute towards poverty reduction

The key communications objectives for the Southern Africa brand are defined in the draft strategy as:

  • The strategic aim, in terms of implementation, is that the Southern Africa brand should underpin all marketing communications about countries in Southern Africa and thereby enhance individual states’ tourism marketing activities and leverage positive associations for Southern Africa in the minds of potential visitors for the benefit of all countries in the region.
  • A strategic approach is recommended, which utilises, firstly, the existing marketing activities of member states to communicate the regional brand values and, secondly, additional discrete activities to project the regional brand.
  • The four regional brand pillars (wilderness, diversity, humanity, climate) represent the basis of Southern Africa communications.

Core messages, themes and stories need to be developed, which reflect elements of these Southern African pillars. These need to be developed both by individual member states and RETOSA and conveyed in their marketing communications.

Southern Africa’s target markets comprise:

  • The regional market, including internal domestic markets, who should be addressed with three aims in mind:
    –    To sensitise them to the impact of tourism on their livelihoods;
    –    To increase their awareness and acceptance of the Southern Africa brand;
    –    To encourage them to travel within their own countries and the region.
  • “Traditional” international markets (e.g. Europe, North America)
  • Emerging international markets (esp. Japan, China, Russia, India, Brazil)

A mix of marketing tactics and channels is recommended in the draft strategy as follows:

  • Run a regional campaign with the aims of:
  • sensitising Southern Africa residents to the impact of tourism on their livelihoods;
  • encourage domestic and regional travel;
  • spread awareness – and acceptance – of the Southern Africa regional brand and its value.
  • A Southern African website portal, which is user-friendly, easily navigable, with links both to individual member states’ own websites and to bookable products.
  • A marketing/PR agency should be appointed to undertake cost-effective marketing activities for Southern Africa, such as PR, social media and e-marketing.
  • Representation is proposed at selected and highly targeted international trade fairs, in order to develop links with outbound tour operators in key and emerging markets and thereby encourage them to package Southern African programmes and itineraries. Recommended trade fairs comprise:
    –    Trade fairs in established markets, where RETOSA could coordinate a Southern African section, in order to maximise market impact by grouping Southern African countries together.
    –    Trade fairs in emerging markets, where RETOSA could mount a pioneering presence on behalf of member states.
    –    Niche market fairs – usually in established markets where Southern Africa has a competitively strong product.

Brand Management Strategy
The aim of the brand management strategy is to:

  • Develop a robust approach for managing, monitoring and improving the brand;
  • Ensure the process is sustainable;
  • Secure member states’ and stakeholders’ commitment;
  • Deliver cost-effective management through cooperation and resource-sharing between member states and RETOSA Secretariat.

The key challenges in managing the regional brand were identified:

  • Capacity and resources in member states and RETOSA Secretariat
  • Understanding of the regional brand: its potential impact and opportunities for implementation
  • Management and planning
  • Commitment and sustainability
  • Evaluation – demonstrating impact and added value

The draft strategy recommends that these are addressed as follows;


  • Annual ongoing capacity-building seminars, coaching etc.
  • Annual meetings and briefings with leaders and opinion-formers
  • Experience Southern Africa brand section on regional website (brand news, implementation, brand toolkit, chatroom/advice/
  • Q&A site)
  • Regional brand toolkit:
    –    Explain destination branding
    –    Role and value of regional brand
    –    Regional brand characteristics
    –    Implementation guidelines (imagery, tone of voice, design style, colours, “dos” and “don’ts”)
    –    Technical specifications for logo

Management & Planning:

  • Appoint a regional brand guardian (RETOSA Secretariat) to:
    –    Oversee implementation of the regional brand
    –    Maintain brand integrity & encourage its use by appropriate organisations (e.g. NTOs, tourism ministries, travel trade)
    –    Monitor the regional brand’s health and impact; recommend when it should be refreshed
    –    Act as the key contact point and source of information on regional brand
    –    Manage any licensing/technical issues
  • Establish regional brand steering group to:
    –    Support brand guardian
    –    Monitor brand guardian’s performance and brand’s impact
    –    Assess when to refresh the brand
    –    Establish annual regional marketing planning process
    –    Prepare annual regional marketing plan

Commitment & Sustainability:

  • Recruit regional brand champions to:
    –    Endorse and promote the regional brand
    –    Encourage others to use it in their own marketing communications
  • Identify regional brand advocates to:
    –    Extend the use of the regional brand, particularly in their own organisations
  • Internal marketing/ongoing capacity-building for executives
  • Regular briefings for leaders
  • Appoint marketing agency – based in South Africa, with international associates in key markets for Southern Africa
  • Develop the RETOSA website as a Southern Africa regional portal
  • Appoint a webmaster – in the RETOSA Secretariat


  • Evaluate the regional brand’s health and impact – every 3 years.

Respective Roles
During an interactive breakout session, workshop participants were required to indicate how they thought the Experience Southern Africa brand could be applied in three areas:

  1. In member states’ own communications;
  2. By member states in partnership with RETOSA;
  3. By RETOSA – and specifically what member states expected from RETOSA in applying and managing the regional brand.

In answer to prompted questions, the perspectives provided by the participants were:

How can member states apply the Experience Southern Africa Brand in their own marketing communications?

Priority 1:

  • Build awareness and lobby for support and ownership of the Experience Southern Africa brand initiative amongst politicians, government officials and private sector stakeholder associations in the respective member states.
  • Reflect the Experience Southern Africa brand in all member states’ country-specific marketing and communication material, marketing events and activities.
  • Build awareness of complementary regional experiences (e.g. routes, trails, events, etc.) in communication and promotional campaigns.
  • Where possible, link and/or align the four pillars (diversity, wilderness, humanity and climate) of the Experience Southern Africa brand to the respective member states’ own brand pillars.
  • Sensitise, excite and engage private sector stakeholder representative organisations and industry stakeholders in member states to embrace and add value to the regional brand by co-branding their offerings with the Experience Southern Africa brand.

Priority 2:

  • When it is ready, launch the Experience Southern Africa brand in the respective member states in collaboration with local NTOs/NTAs/DMOs. Also communicate the roll-out strategy, indicating partnership/collaboration opportunities to all the relevant public and private sector stakeholders in member states.
  • Invite RETOSA to participate in member state-specific events/platforms, to communicate the regional Experience Southern Africa brand campaign and the benefits of participating in the campaign to key stakeholders and opinion-formers.
  • Engage relevant stakeholders and develop regional packages and experiences (e.g. routes/trails, events special interest themes) under the regional branding campaign.

How can the Experience Southern Africa brand be applied by member states in partnership with RETOSA?

Priority 1:

  • As one of the first-phase branding initiatives, develop a joint regional domestic marketing campaign (e.g. Experience Southern Africa Yourself) to engage and excite local residents, the media, etc. (along the lines of Canada’s Locals Know Best campaign and New Zealand’s 101 Must Do’s campaigns).  N.B. Discount vouchers may be useful to encourage/enable local residents to visit and stay in accommodation that is priced for international visitors – e.g. in low season.
  • Where possible assist and support each other to get the buy-in of political and public sector leaders and stakeholders, as well as the private sector, to embrace and commit to the regional brand. In this regard best practices and successes can be shared via the RETOSA knowledge and information “gateway”.
  • Co-branding and endorsement by RETOSA and member countries with the focus on collaborative marketing initiatives and opportunities. Consider an accreditation system – e.g. “member of RETOSA” (c.f. Star Alliance – leveraging the benefits of all).
  • RETOSA should make a concerted effort to link the regional brand with all the other destination brands in the region. All member country brands should also be identified and included in RETOSA communication and marketing initiatives (practically displaying the benefits of cross marketing).
  • There should be a common understanding among RETOSA and member countries that the branding process should be seen as a longer-term journey, starting with a high impact launch, following by some key milestones and a roll-out action plan for all participating stakeholders.
  • Develop an awareness and capacity-building programme for all public and private sector stakeholders. This should include a brand manual/toolkit, which would act as an “instruction manual” and inspire confidence amongst stakeholders in applying the regional brand.
  • At the regional level the key icons/brand features of the member countries should be used in a co-ordinated and cohesive manner to enhance and reinforce the respective country-specific brands and marketing efforts (marketing “noise” should be avoided).
  • In accordance with the brand guidelines the destination-specific and regional “Experience Southern Africa” brand must be correctly and consistently used and positioned to reinforce the brand message and positioning in the marketplace.
  • This needs to be rigorously and continuously monitored and enforced by the regional brand custodian (RETOSA Secretariat).

Priority 2:

  • RETOSA should continuously identify, address and communicate issues of mutual benefit and common interest to member destinations in a pro-active and co-ordinated manner.
  • Continuous tracking, monitoring and evaluation of the branding journey and actions and progress should be undertaken and communicated to all stakeholder groups.

What is expected from RETOSA and how should RETOSA apply and manage the regional brand?

  • RETOSA should make a concerted effort to get ALL member countries to contribute their membership fees within the required timeframes.
  • RETOSA should launch a targeted and continuous communications campaign to sell the benefits of involvement in RETOSA initiatives and active participation in the Experience Southern Africa branding initiative.
  • RETOSA should have a specific strategy to address the disparities between member states. So, for example, capacity-building and support programmes for some countries in marketing and communication can be facilitated. (N.B. RETOSA should communicate in appropriate languages, other than English, to member states: Portuguese – Angola and Mozambique; French – DRC.)
  • A concerted effort needs to be made to look at innovative and practical ways to address the financial constraints and mobilise funds to undertake the regional branding and marketing initiatives (e.g. explore partnerships with industry stakeholders, undertake cost-sharing initiatives, etc.).
  • The stages of the respective member states’ destination life cycles, as well as the key features of each country, should be considered in RETOSA communication strategies and messages (e.g. country-specific languages).
  • A key part of RETOSA’s brand communication strategy should be to inspire and excite public and private sector stakeholders in terms of taking ownership and managing the collaborative brand partnership in a cohesive and mutually beneficial manner.
  • RETOSA must engage in a focussed and targeted PR campaign, using appropriate media, the RETOSA website, Tourism Tattler Tade Journal, social media, etc. to spread the new branding message.
  • RETOSA needs to be the custodian of the Experience Southern Africa brand, and to assiduously protect the brand’s identity and integrity.
  • RETOSA should come up with a powerful value proposition as to why member countries should participate and what the benefits and responsibilities of participation will be.
  • RETOSA, in collaboration with member states, should explore innovative and creative ways to leverage funding and collaborative opportunities to implement and manage the regional brand strategy. Appropriate low-cost/free opportunities should be identified and effectively exploited.
  • Ideally RETOSA should also address all relevant strategic issues of common interest and mutual benefit that individual member countries cannot effectively do on their own (advocacy, lobbying, facilitating the Uni-visa initiative, open skies, airlift strategies, etc.).

Critical Success Factors
Workshop participants identified the following factors, which they considered to be critical to the successful implementation of the Southern Africa regional brand:

  • A clear and distinctive value proposition is required for the regional brand. This should clearly state the benefits of the regional brand to member states. This must be communicated to, and embraced by, all key public and private sector stakeholders in member states.
  • The benefits related to the regional branding initiative should be tangible and relevant.
  • Member states must understand that the regional brand does not conflict with their own national brand, how it can complement their own brand and add value for all member states.
  • Acceptance, endorsement and commitment to action on the part of all member states are essential.
  • A shared tourism vision, underpinned by passion and commitment to make the new branding initiative happen. This will require a powerful communications campaign to make all stakeholders (including local residents and the media) aware of, and excited about, the campaign.
  • A user-friendly “road map” and practical roll-out plan for the regional brand is essential.
  • RETOSA needs to be adequately resourced (human and financial capacity) and supported to facilitate the regional branding initiative.
  • Smart mobilisation and co-ordination of resources in the region will be critical – particularly resource-sharing and exploitation of cost-effective communications channels, such as digital marketing, social media and PR.

For more information or to contribute to this debate email: marketing@retosa.co.za or visit: www.retosa.co.za

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