This is the second in a two-part series.
South Africa is a diverse and compelling long-haul destination for North American travelers, and for those very reasons it’s essential that travel agents learn about the country’s tourism product if they are to sell it effectively.
Sthu Zungu, president of South African Tourism, North America, provided Travel Market Report readers with specific pointers on positioning South Africa for first-time and repeat visitors and overcoming client hesitations – in addition to reviewing the training tools and marketing support the tourism office makes available to North American agents.
How can travel agents best position South Africa to the potential first-time visitor?
Zungu: What we have found to be effective is experiences. An agent who’s able to unpack the experience and paint a picture, paint this dream of a country that will change you forever, will do better. To say, ‘I stood where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet and it is amazing. I was in the place where two Nobel Laureates lived’ – these are stories the traveler comes back with.
We always say you don’t experience South Africa – you meet South Africa, you engage with South Africa, and South Africa never leaves you.
What strategies can you give agents to help them promote to first-time visitors?
Zungu: First-time travelers are really looking for succinctness. They’re looking at this destination that’s big and overwhelming, saying, ‘Help me understand and make sense of it.’
I would encourage agents to put South Africa into chunks and bite size pieces. Our proposed itineraries are a place to start. We have broken this big destination into key experiences. One is safari and nature. Another is adventure and exploration, then food and wine, culture and heritage. What are these experiences? We provide real detail for each one.
This helps agents understand where is the best safari experience and know the parks and the products in those areas. Why would a client choose that one over this one? If they have three days in Cape Town, what things should I tell my clients not to miss? If the traveler wants to relax and see some nature, where is it best?
How can an agent know when a customer might be a good candidate for South Africa?
Zungu: Somebody who has been to Europe, maybe several times – to the U.K., France, Italy; somebody who has been to Australia. They’re not afraid to go long haul, and now they are saying, ‘I’m looking to travel again.’
They might say, ‘I want to go to Europe,’ and when you ask why they say, ‘Because I want to go to Bordeaux and sample the wines.’ Then the agent might say, ‘I know you love your wine and food. Have you considered South Africa? Have you noticed they’re winning wine awards? Their winemaking is strong and growing. South Africa’s cuisine is coming up.’
Then someone interested in nature who says, ‘I’d like to go to the Amazon,’ for example. The agent would say, ‘Have you considered South Africa? You can experience nature, but then there’s diversity in your trip. You can see animals in their natural habitat, but without losing the comforts of home.’
How should agents position South Africa for potential repeat visitors?
Zungu: To a traveler who says, ‘I was in South Africa before and I want to do something different,’ tell them about the South Africa they didn’t see before. South Africa is a destination you can do many times and still come back in awe, because it is that vast, that diverse.
Then add an extension to the Okavongo Delta [in Botswana], to Victoria Falls, to Nambia’s amazing desert. Suddenly the experience is much bigger for the second-time visitor.
What client objections should agents be prepared to address?
Zungu: One of the objections is, ‘It’s so far. How long will it take me to go there?’ South Africa is not near, but it is not that far. We have nonstop flights on Delta and South African Airways from Atlanta and New York. You arrive in the morning with your adrenalin pumping.
They can go via other destinations, such as on Emirates via Dubai, and break up their trip. Although it may be far, 14 and-a-half hours or so, it’s worth it.
What about price?
Zungu: Show the traveler that a good deal includes price, but it’s also about value. South Africa is a real value-for-money destination. Even though the dollar has weakened, it’s still good value, still better than going to France. You could say, ‘Why don’t you consider South Africa? That is just as powerful an experience as Europe, but for much less of a price. Your dollar will go much further.’
Airlines put out offers, so agents should be on the lookout. If the agent can help the traveler, for instance by using frequent flyer mileage to reduce the cost of getting there, then the rest is done.
What should agents say to clients concerned about safety and security?
Zungu: Whenever there are safety concerns in South Africa, it is never related to tourists; it is always social issues within the country, which are being dealt with by the police. With the World Cup [in 2010], more than 41,000 new police were added to the police force. The country is more secure than ever.
Are there health concerns for visitors?
Zungu: That is absolutely not an issue. We have some of the best medical services in Africa and some of the best drinking water.
If you’re going into parts of Kruger National Park, according to the World Health Organization’s ratings, it might be a malaria-prone zone, but mosquito net and repellant often suffice. From October to February, travelers who want to be super cautious would take malaria shots, but if they’re going to any other parts of South Africa, they don’t need them.
How can agents become involved in selling South Africa?
Zungu: Often the biggest issue for agents is that they don’t know how to confidently sell South Africa. Travelers tend to know more than travel consultants, so we encourage agents to spend time learning about the destination. We have tools we’ve put together – training tools, our website, webinars. Another tool is INDABA, our biggest travel show. We encourage agents to come and see the breadth of the offering. (See sidebar)
We also have a call center. We are always available to answer questions and help agents have this confidence.
Please see part one, World Cup Brings Big Changes to South Africa Tourism, Aug., 8, 2011.