‘Nigeria remains a very important market for South African tourism’
South African Tourism mandate in West Africa, particularly Nigeria and Ghana is to promote South Africa as a preferred holiday destination of choice. As part of its marketing efforts to ensure maximum exposure, the organisation recently hosted a group of trade partners and journalists to a tour of Free State, Kwazulu Natal and Gauteng provinces. The nine-day fun trip ended in Soweto, with a networking session between hosted trade partners and South African Property Opportunities (SAPO). In an interview with CHUKS NWANNE at the event, the Regional Manager (West Africa) for South African Tourism, Hloni Pitso, spoke on the idea behind the hosting and the desire of SAT to build strong relationship with its partners and tourists from West Africa.
As SAT’s Regional Manager for West Africa, what’s your mandate?
Our mandate is to basically to promote South Africa as a business and leisure destination. The government of South Africa employs us and we have about 40 offices globally; each of those offices looks after a certain region. In this case, we have our West Africa Office, which oversees Ghana and Nigeria.
What exactly informed your decision to set up the West Africa office, as against servicing those markets from Head Office?
Usually, we start softly; we enter the market very slowly and we see how the market responds. We have a research unit that looks at the trend from various countries and advises us. So, we have what we call the core market, which is where our offices are based. Then, we also have the developing markets that we feel that we need to monitor. And as we see travel increase from that country, we will then decide to move in. Before we opened the office in Nigeria, we used to service the market from the Head Office. But as we saw the market increasing, we then decided it was time to actually invest in the market because, Nigeria has a culture of travel. It only made sense for us now to also put Ghana into it because we also saw numbers from Ghana starting to grow.
Looking at Nigeria and Ghana, how would you compare traffic from both countries into South Africa?
Ghana is still a fairly small market for us. In 2017, we closed on about 70,000 arrivals, whereas in Nigeria, we closed at about 50,000 arrivals; that’s based on nationality of the passports. If you are traveling with Nigerian and Ghanaian passport, we were able to capture that, however, we do realise there are other people that travel with other passports, especially in Nigeria; they’ve got British as well as American passports. So, we lose out on those statistics. However, we have our sister company, South African Airways (SAA); we are able to share statistics. For instance, SAA in Nigeria, they managed about 108,000 passengers between January 2017 and December.
So, we are quite certain that, apart from those that we’ve counted that are holding citizenship of Nigeria or Ghana, we have our sister company that is able to give us statistics. We also know that the market is definitely growing because, we have other airlines that are starting to introduce their indirect routes. For example, Kenyan Airways is now starting to operate more flights into other cities in South Africa. They used to just fly between Nairobi and Johannesburg, but now, they are flying between Nairobi and Durban, as well as Nairobi and Cape Town. So, it makes sense that we partner with them as well to make sure that, if passengers are not flying with South African Airways directly, we know there are still other flights options that are available; just to ensure that we have enough airlift capacity and we keep increasing the numbers.
How important is the Nigerian market to South Africa?
Nigeria remains a very important market for South Africa, to the extent that we’ve invested in even establishing an office there. The South African Tourism office in Lagos is the only office outside of South African borders on the continent; that should tell you how important the market is to us. However, we do have other portfolios like east Africa, but we don’t have an office presence there. Until they meet our requirement for us to try to establish an office, we will then consider doing that. But at the moment, the arrivals are not too high. However, we are keeping them close and we are still marketing to them from the Head Office.
To what extent did the xenophobic attacks in South Africa affect your business?
We were really concerned for the safety of our visitors. However, what we also realised is that the friction was more of the foreign nationals living in South Africa and not necessarily targeted at tourists; we never really had any incident where a visitor was attacked because they were foreign nationals. So, we made sure that all the agencies involved, the law enforcement agencies, are up to task; we prioritized visitors. However, with the friction between those that are living locally in South Africa, that’s where we had a challenge because, the perception is that we are not a welcoming nation; we are attacking people. But there’s more to the whole story that it’s being told. Unfortunately, where there’s violence, the violence takes over all the attention.
However, there are social economic issues such as unemployment rate, which is high in South Africa. There are policies that government has out in place; for instance, if you are applying for a job as a foreign national in South Africa, you have to go through certain processes. So, it’s those things that we are really concerned about to say, ‘even if you disagree with the process, make sure that you do not do so in a violent manner; there are ways and processes you can follow. If you know somebody is doing something wrong and you know their whereabouts, go and report it to the law enforcement officers; don’t take laws into your hands.’ Yes, it did hit us in terms of the image of the country and that’s what we are trying to change. That’s why we keep on hosting people, media, partners, celebrities and tour operators; the idea is to give you a feel of the place. You have gone around in the last eight days, you’ve come to Soweto, have you been threatened in any way?
How important is the tour and networking session for your trade partners and how do you benefit as an organisation?
Through our tour operators and partners that we assist, we promote their packages; for them, that’s where the benefit is. Because, if you bring them to South Africa, they get to experience various offerings that we have, then you create a platform like this where they interact with those that create packages. For us, once business thrives between the two parties, then we’ve done our job; out job is to establish trade relations.
As much as you are succeeding in promoting the brand South Africa to Nigerians, visa remains a major issue for tourists. How are you dealing with that challenge?
Really, we don’t interfere in such, but we are able to influence where possible. For instance, if we know you as officially registered tour operators and we know you are doing the business, we do introductions to the embassy so that they know whom they are dealing with. It’s not always an easy process because they also have certain requirements that they need to follow. So, as much we try very much not to interfere, we can try and influence where it’s possible to say, ‘these are the guys that we are working with; we’ve trained them. They know how to sell South Africa and they also know that, if they don’t follow the right processes and requirements, we can also take them off our list of officially approved operators to sell South Africa.’
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