India is the sixth biggest long-haul tourism source market for South Africa
Ms Hanneli Slabber
Interview with Ms Hanneli Slabber, Country Manager, South African Tourism in India.
South African Tourism is the national tourism agency responsible for the marketing of South Africa as a preferred tourist destination. South Africa has varied activities on offer for tourists from South Asia. South Africa has enjoyed double digit growth from the Indian market for the last five years with the numbers increasing substantially each year. India is the sixth biggest long-haul tourism source market for South Africa. South Africa also has a diverse culture which interests South African travellers to explore the culture of other countries.
This month the Global Editor for Foreign Exchange Diplomatic Society (FETDS), Srimal Fernando was pleased to interview Hanneli Slabber, Country Manager for South African Tourism in India . In this exclusive Interview the Country Manager for South African Tourism in India talks on perspective on the strategy of the South African tourism development in India, current connectivity between India and South Africa, opportunities for growth, challenges and about the initiatives South African Tourism will be undertaking to engage with the Indian travel trade.
Srimal Fernando ( SF) : You have now been with South African Tourism for a long time. How long have you been working in India as the Country Manager of South African tourism? Can you tell us about your work experience before you arrived in India?
Hanneli Slabber, Country Manager, South African Tourism (CM) : My role as Country Manager for South African Tourism in India started in March 2011. At the helm of affairs, my core responsibility is to effectively market the destination to Indian audiences and help further increase Indian arrivals to the country. Prior to this role, I was the Global Product Head for the board and was based in South Africa. After completing my Honour’s Degree in Applied Anthropology (With Honours) from the University of Pretoria, I went on to begin my career in the hotel industry before moving to sales and marketing. With experiences in both inbound and outbound companies, I was heading Contiki Holidays before moving to South African Tourism.
SF : Can you give us a brief overview on South African Tourism in India? What is your marketing strategy in India? What are your predictions for season 2013/14?
CM : South African Tourism is the national tourism agency responsible for the marketing of South Africa as a preferred tourist destination. It is headed up by Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Thulani Nzima. In India, we have an office in Mumbai with a focused team spearheading our successful communication, marketing and trade initiatives across the country. Over the years, we have been continuously enhancing our efforts in popularizing the destination and further developing our relationships and engagements with our key stakeholders in the country.
South Africa has enjoyed double digit growth from the Indian market for the last five years with the numbers increasing substantially each year. As per the latest arrival figures for June 2013, 59,161 Indian tourists have visited South Africa between Jan 2013 to June 2013 which is an increase of 11per cent vis-à-vis the same period last year. We had set a target to achieve 100000 tourist arrivals from India by 2014 but we managed to achieve that as of December 2012 itself. We are expecting at least 15 per cent more Indian tourist footfall into the country in 2013.
Talking about our marketing initiatives in India, we started our year with a new outdoor and cinema campaign. ‘The more you do, the closer you get’ outdoor advertising campaign was undertaken across 21 cities in India. 462 media units highlighted the diversity of experiences offered on a fun-filled holiday with activities and opportunities to grow closer to your fellow travellers. The campaign stimulated the curiosity and interest levels of Indian travelers by showcasing the overwhelming experiences and infinite opportunities that the Rainbow Nation has to offer.
The month of March continued to bustle with action and excitement as SA Tourism launched the annual cinema ad campaign across 7 key cities in India. Through this campaign South African Tourism targeted 96 screens across movies like Himmatwala, Oblivion and Iron Man-3 through 45-sec ads that highlighted South Africa as a fun and activity-filled travel destination.
This activity was followed by the second edition of popular travel show “Life Mein Ek Baar" (Once in a lifetime) on Fox Traveller which was shot in South Africa. We were extremely delighted to showcase the best and varied experiences offered by our country to the Indian audiences through this popular show.
One of the key highlights this year was getting popular South African cricketer Jonty Rhodes on board as our brand ambassador for the Indian market. Jonty has a huge fan-following in India and his love for travel and South Africa makes him the perfect ambassador of choice to promote South Africa’s varied and exciting tourism experiences in India. South African Tourism launched a contest titled ‘Take me to South Africa’ with Jonty Rhodes which provided an opportunity to four lucky winners to explore South Africa with Jonty as their special guide and host for two weeks. Post this trip, Jonty launched a travel guide on South Africa in association with Lonely Planet. The travel guide titled, ‘My Travel Escapades in South Africa’ captured the exciting journey of Jonty with the contest winners through cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and the picturesque Garden Route, covering various game reserves and scenic winelands. To further promote the guide, South African Tourism partnered with NDTV Good Times as the channel partner for this initiative. They have captured the exciting South African journey of the four lucky winners with Jonty Rhodes in a three episode series titled “South Africa with Jonty Rhodes”. Moving forward, South African Tourism will continue to work closely with Jonty and come up with some exciting platforms and initiatives to engage with the Indian travellers and promote South Africa as a preferred holiday destination in India.
South African Tourism also believes in providing firsthand experience to media and trade partners. We regularly host media to South Africa and make them experience the beauty, culture, activities, luxury, nightlife, food and lifestyle of the country. We also do similar hosting for our trade partners where the focus is more on itinerary planning. This is done in conjunction with South African products and suppliers. As a tourism board, we will continue to invest in such FAMs so that we help the media and trade to get closer to the destination.
Every year, we announce JMAs with leading travel companies in India. This year, we have signed JMAs with Kulin Kumar Holidays, Club 7 Holidays, Kuoni India and Thomas Cook. In line with the growing popularity of South Africa as a tourist destination in India, we will continue to market our destination offerings to varied traveler segments by engaging with different trade partners across the country. Recently, we completed our Learn South Africa training workshop across 15 cities in India where we trained over 1500 travel trade partners through 27 sessions. We are also coming up with a new online training programme called SA Specialist India; a free online independent study programme will give participants the flexibility to enhance their knowledge about South Africa as a travel destination at their own leisure time. Travel agents influence tourism planning decisions and outcomes by being trusted advisors and guides for travelers who want to explore the world. This is why continuing destination education and training for travel agents is extremely critical.
It feels good to see that our initiatives are being appreciated and rewarded. South Africa was awarded the Best International Wildlife destination by Lonely Planet in 2012 and 2013 and Today’s Traveller Best Publicity and Promotions Award last year. South Africa was also awarded the Best International Lifestyle Destination of the Year at NDTV Good Times Lifestyle Awards 2013.
SF : South Africa made great improvements in the number of visitor's arrivals. How do you explain that?
CM: We have seen a tremendous growth in tourist arrivals to South Africa year-on-year. If we look at our global figures, total visitor arrivals in 2012 was 9 188 368 which is an increase of 10.2 percent from the previous year. The Indian market is also on a growth trajectory with our arrival figures for Jan 2013 to June 2013, witnessing an increase of 11 percent. As a tourism board, it is completely overwhelming for us to see this growth from the Indian and International markets. We have invested substantially in our innovative communication, marketing and trade campaigns to maximize the opportunities available in the growing travel outbound market across countries. Minister of Tourism for South Africa, Marthinus Van Schalkwyk announced earlier this year that South Africa aims to become one of the world’s top 20 tourism destinations by 2020 and the tourism board is determined to increase the number of global foreign tourist arrivals to 15 million by 2020. Furthermore, in the coming year, South African Tourism (SAT) will roll out a global hub strategy created to effectively deliver the destination marketing message, with a wider reach than ever before. To further bolster growth, we have identified core markets, investment markets and tactical markets across the world.
SF : When tourists from the Indian Subcontinent Countries think of South Africa the first thing that comes to mind is nature and wildlife Safaris. What else can one experience in South Africa?
CM : South Africa offers innumerable activities for Indian tourists to indulge in. Apart from wildlife some of the must do experiences that Indian tourists are fond of include the following:
Scenic Splendour and Serenity - South Africa is blessed with spectacular scenery and natural landscapes - soaring mountain peaks and passes, dense and ancient forests, miles of unspoiled coastline, rivers to sooth or thrill you, and rolling flower fields and grasslands of every hue. South Africa has places to be still, places to inspire you, places to explore or to simply revel in the joyous gift of nature.
Wine Tasting - With wine regions stretching from the western to the far northern Cape and the edge of the Karoo you can almost taste your way around South Africa. Sample at well-known estates or seek out little-known gems – our Port and Brandy routes are renowned too. Where there’s fabulous wine, great food is never far behind. Oenophiles, gastronomes and sybarites – don’t miss our winelands.
Magnificent Marine - Where else can you sail beside a whale, go eye-to-eye with wild Tiger sharks, cage-dive with Great Whites, be charmed by urban penguins, snorkel beside whale sharks and be entranced on a moonlit beach as new-born turtle hatchlings make their bid for life in the ocean?
Outdoor Rush- Beautiful weather, spectacular locations, awesome scenery, and record-breaking, mega-thrill adventure mixed in – that’s how we’ve earned the title the Adventure Capital of the World
Urban Rhythm - Feel the energy of our cities, catch the beat of Afro-pop, hip-hop or jazz at a shebeen or all-night club, play in our casino’s, visit our museums, be entertained in our theatres. Shop, dine and follow the pulse of our rhythm to your next urban African adventure
South African Feast - From traditional comfort food to Michelin-star dining; a hearty shebeen buffet or a gourmet banquet beneath a star-strewn African sky, let your taste buds take you on a journey of discovery with mouth-watering South African soul food
Indulge your senses - Relax and rejuvenate the South African way. Cocoon yourself in calming treatments and soothing therapies. Scented traditional balms made with indigenous oils and ingredients will have you stress-free and feeling like African royalty in no time.
SF: What is the current connectivity between India and South Africa? How important is South African Air (SAA) to the marketing campaigns of South African Tourism?
CM : A greater number of airlines offer daily flights to South Africa, thus increasing the connectivity and offering more options, flexibility and convenience to the Indian travelers. South African Airways fly daily to Johannesburg while Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways connect key Indian cities to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
South African Airways is one of our key valued partner in increasing tourist arrivals to South Africa. Daily direct flights from Mumbai have made it feasible for Indian travellers to visit the Rainbow Nation. SAA holds a key role in key initiatives through the year. They are a part of our annual roadshow every year and also the Learn SA training module this year thereby providing them with a platform to interact with the Indian travel partners to explore mutually beneficial areas of cooperation.
SF : What is India's market share in your overall tourism arrivals?
CM : According to our arrivals statistics of May 2013, India is the sixth biggest long-haul tourism source market for South Africa. Over the years India has emerged as one of the world's fastest-growing outbound tourism market. Keeping this in mind we are investing heavily in this market and constantly adapting to the changing consumer interests, diversifying our products and customizing our offerings to varied consumer demands. We have a lot of expectations from the Indian market and going forward our increasing engagement with trade and consumers would help us in realizing this vision.
SF : What type of Indian traveler is South African Tourism aiming to attract?
CM : The Indian travelers visiting South Africa are well-informed and aware about the destination. We see a good mix of luxury travelers, adventure seekers, wildlife watchers, budget travellers and also cricket fans. We are flooded with a lot of enquiries for Indian cricket team’s tour to South Africa for the tests and ODI series. People want to find out how they can they get a good value for money holiday experience during the tournament while some plan to extend their trip post the tournament and explore the country.
Also, in India you cannot discount the influence of Hindi movies. Not to forget films such as Race, Cocktail among others and TV shows like Life Mein Ek Baar 2, South Africa with Jonty Rhodes who have captured the scenic beauty of the Rainbow Nation in their canvas. After seeing the movie Cocktail, we saw queries coming in from Indian travel enthusiasts who wanted to go to South Africa and explore the destinations highlighted in the movie.
On the other hand, South Africa has also grown to be a popular MICE (Meetings, Incentive, Conference & Exhibition) destination. The world class facilities are encouraging many corporate houses to organize conferences in South Africa. Corporations such as Tata, Godrej, Infosys, Mahindra and Ranbaxy have already made a formidable presence in South Africa and we foresee many more Indian companies to enter SA in the coming years and will definitely see an upsurge in business travellers. Corporate rewards are no more a memento on the table; employers are rewarding their best workers with holiday packages as well. Thus South Africa is a destination for both leisure and MICE.
SF : How many South Africans annually visit countries like Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal?
CM : The South African travelers visiting the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka during the period from 2008 to 2012 are shown below.
Country Year Total
Maldives 2008 66
Nepal 2008 392
Sri Lanka 2008 1,973
As per the latest figures 5,420 South African tourists have visited Sri Lanka in 2012. The number of South Africans visiting Sri Lanka has increased from 1,973 in 2008 to 3,549 in 2010. However Nepal and the Maldives witnessed a significant increase of South Africans visiting their countries during the same period.
SF : What are the unique selling points of South Africa that can attract International tourists from South Asia?
CM : South Africa has varied activities on offer for tourists from South Asia. It is a perfect family holiday destination as we offer activities for all age groups. The youngsters in the family can look forward to adventure sports, for the elderly couple we have wine route drives and sightseeing, honeymoon couple can look forward to a self-drive watching the sun go down from the table mountain, children can look forward to amusement parks, ladies can enjoy an amazing bush spa experience and shopping at some of the biggest malls in the Southern Hemisphere. For all the wildlife lovers, South Africa is a paradise with multiple game reserves and unique game drive experiences. If you are one of them who live for the adrenalin rush, then South Africa is your playground. Some of the world’s best climbing, surfing, bungee, diving, hiking, horseback safaris, mountain biking, river rafting, cage diving’s - and just about any other extreme activity you can name, are on offer in the country.
SF : South African Tourism has made great inroads here in India. How do you engage with the Indian travel trade industry (travel agents, tour operators, etc)?
CM :Travel agents influence tourism planning decisions and outcomes by being trusted advisors and guides for travelers who want to explore the world. How attractive a destination appears to customers depends a lot on how the tour operators portray it to them. Therefore, continued engagement with the Indian travel trade is high on our priority.
In Jan this year, South African Tourism organised the four-city roadshow which travelled across Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and New Delhi. The roadshow gave representatives of both the countries an opportunity to come together and conduct meaningful business and explore mutually beneficial opportunities. We organize the biggest travel & tourism roadshow in India represented by the Indian trade and SA products. While the South African partners get to learn about the latest travel trends in India and traveler interests, Indian trade use this platform to learn more about the latest offerings of South Africa which can be customized as per the preferences of Indian travelers. We make sure that variety of South African products attends our roadshow every year such that the Indian trade partners get the opportunity to further expand their understanding and offerings of South Africa and create itineraries which will be preferred by Indian travellers.
Our recently concluded module three of ‘Learn South Africa’ program with travel agents across 15 cities was another fruitful initiative that educated more than a 1500 agents on how best they could sell South Africa to their clientele. In fact this year, Learn South Africa was structured in a very unique manner in comparison to the previous modules. A selection of South African suppliers was a part of the training programme which facilitated a more collaborative and mutually beneficial learning environment. This provided an opportunity to the travel partners to interact directly with the South African suppliers and better understand the varied product offerings that South Africa presents to the Indian travellers. In the travel industry, travel agents represent a key influence in the tourism marketing. Therefore, we believe that our travel partners are the true custodians of our brand. Hence, educating agents about a destination and providing intensive training to them in extremely important. We also know that Indian travelers do way more activities per day than tourists from other countries. Hence it is essential to package the itinerary in a way that they lose minimum time in travelling and gain the maximum number of experiences to indulge in.
We also host Indian trade on FAM trips through the year. South African Tourism hosted 68 travel agents for 7 FAMs in association with SA products and suppliers last year. We want the Indian trade to see the country first hand, experience all the activities we want to popularize and then sell it to the consumers in India. As we speak, we have a delegation of 12 trade partners exploring varied experiences in South Africa across Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban.
We have continued our efforts in undertaking JMAs with the leading travel companies in India so that Indian tourists get some exciting packages for South Africa. Tourists eager to enjoy their Diwali and Christmas holidays in South Africa, now have the opportunity to take advantage of the special, fun-filled, activity and experience rich holiday itineraries from Club7 Holidays, Kulin Kumar Holidays, Thomas Cook India and Kuoni India for the same. These JMAs focus on varied aspects of South Africa such as cities; self-drive, scenic beauty, wildlife and adventure which help us reach out to a larger segment of audiences across the country.
SF : Where do you see opportunities for growth? What are the challenges you foresee in the Indian market?
CM : Indian travellers are always on the lookout for great value for money holiday experience and South Africa is a perfect destination for the same. The key to success in this scenario is to deal with the changing travel patterns and consumer preferences effectively by diversifying our products, maintaining excellent service and innovating our marketing and distribution channels. The most critical element is to ensure that we deliver value for money holiday experience to Indian travelers by offering varied experiences to suit every need and desire. In the current scenario, we have seen the INR strengthening against the ZAR over the last few months, thereby resulting in a ‘bonus’ value for our travelers – their good deal just got a whole lot better! Another challenge that we face from India is direct flights to South Africa. South African Airways offers daily direct flights from Mumbai but more direct flights are needed from other key markets like Delhi.
Cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad are mature markets for us. But we are witnessing growth in arrival figures from cities like Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune and Kolkata. In the past few years, we have undertaken multiple initiatives in these mini-metros and tier II markets to popularize South Africa and we hope to see tremendous growth from these new source markets in the coming times.
SF : In terms of cultural appeal, what can India and the other Indian Subcontinent countries offer to South African visitors?
CM :Cultural tourism India is a predominant factor behind India and other subcontinent countries meteoric rise in the tourism segment in recent years, because from time immemorial, these countries have been considered the land of ancient history, heritage, and culture. Tourists from South Africa are always excited to explore newer destinations and witness the unexplored. South Africa also has a diverse culture which interests South African travellers to explore the culture of other countries. Tourism will thus play a key role in pulling tourists towards the rich culture and heritage of these countries.