When South Africa hosted soccer’s World Cup last year, it brought big changes to the nation’s tourism offering. In preparation for the hugely popular sports event, South Africa expanded and enhanced its tourism infrastructure – introducing new types of accommodations and upgrading its airports and transport system.
Service levels for visitors also were raised, as a generation of South Africans who never lived under Apartheid increasingly embraced the promise of tourism.
“South Africa is a country in movement. I would encourage agents who haven’t been in a while to come back. The World Cup brought about such change,” said Sthu Zungu, president of South African Tourism, North America.
For North American travelers, English-speaking South Africa provides a comfort level that’s key to its appeal. “The proposition of South Africa is really about being pampered and having an African experience that’s comfortable but authentic,” Zungu told Travel Market Report.
Zungu exhorted agents to “learn our story,” so their clients can experience “the mixing and fusion of colors that make South Africa a beautiful and peculiar country that’s on the rise.”
In the first of a two-part series, Zungu discusses the changes in South Africa, the expanding market for travel to South Africa and how the nation is keeping pace. (In part two, she will provide agents with practical advice for selling South Africa.)
Who is the leisure traveler to South Africa today?
Zungu: Traditionally we’ve seen two types of people come to South Africa. Number one, a very important segment, is usually a couple in the baby boomer generation. Some are still working, but they’re close to retirement and of a high income level.
They have traveled the world several times and are looking for that next place. South Africa is not their first long-haul destination. They’re well- read, and they know what they want. This group is expanding.
What type of experience are these baby boomers looking for in South Africa?
Zungu: Primarily what they’re looking for is an African type of luxury experience. They want to travel grand and have everything made accessible for them. ‘Make it easy to do, and we’re happy to pay.’ Safari is their biggest draw.
What’s your second top leisure market?
Zungu: Another one we’ve seen grow is a young, predominantly male traveler who’s looking for adventure, an active traveler. South Africa might be the one big trip they take in a year. They’re usually professionals, and they don’t travel cheap. They earn good money.
They don’t have a lot of time, so the trip has to be super-sized. You’ve got to have Cape Town, a safari, a little adventure, nightlife. That’s part of justifying making that big trip – it has to have all the diverse elements that are unique to South Africa.
How are your leisure markets changing?
Zungu: The older segment, the boomer, is expanding into family; they’re bringing their grandchildren. I think that is a result of the changing economy and values being recalibrated.
They’re expanding the way they travel. They’re looking for educational opportunities for their grandchildren. Or it’s a celebration of family, where they meet once a year. They’re still traveling grand, but the family is growing.
On the younger side, we are seeing general growth.
How old are those younger, predominantly male travelers?
Zungu: Ages 25 to 45. It used to be 35 to 45; it’s coming down a lot.
That’s exciting to us, because whether they’re going because their grandparents bring them or because of the World Cup, South Africa is no longer far away to them. Whereas South Africa would never be a first-time long-haul trip in the past, it’s beginning to be.
South Africa allows a comfortable entry into the African continent for this type of adventurous traveler.
What forces are affecting the market for travel to South Africa today?
Zungu: South Africa is a prosperous country. Economically, South Africa has been on a growth path since the dawn of our democracy 17 years ago.
South Africans are working. South Africa is in the G20 [the world’s top 20 economies] and we’ve just been included in BRIC – with Brazil, Russia, India, China [the world’s fastest-growing emerging economies]. South Africa has some of the best financial systems in the world.
These things speak of a South Africa that is strong. Our democracy is strong.
South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup. What impact did that have?
Zungu: That brought about a whole upgrade in our infrastructure and a lift in service, in how we treat visitors. Our airports, transport system, our roads have been upgraded; new hotels have opened. So South Africa is ready – a country that has improved on what was already good.
What might surprise agents who have been selling South Africa for years about today’s South Africa?
Zungu: South Africa is now easy to get around. If you had been selling South Africa many years ago, you would think you need to go by bus. But a lot of travelers, Europeans and Germans especially, hire a car and drive themselves.
More people are involved in tourism than there used to be, so there’s an understanding of the value of tourism. What you can offer the traveler is so colorful now. It doesn’t have to be that same lodge you knew about. It does not have to be five-star. There are three-star products that are unbelievable.
B&Bs were allowed to be part of accommodations for the World Cup, so there was incredible growth. The B&B brings travelers closer to South Africa, especially in the Winelands or in places where you want to give your travelers something more intimate.
What are your top niche markets from North America?
Zungu: Departures from the classical tour. (See sidebar.) The gay and lesbian market, another segment that is very well-read and has high standards; they know that South Africa is open and welcoming. This segment is growing.
Also you find a lot of African American travelers looking to experience the culture. In sports, golf is an important niche. Another is honeymoon, romance.
Next time: How to get involved in selling South Africa, including practical tips for positioning South Africa for first-time and repeat visitors and for overcoming client hesitations.