South African Tourism (SAT) last month was in Nigeria for a travel road show with the regional director, Africa, Evelyn Mahlaba leading the team from SAT’s Johannesburg office. She speaks with ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA on the tourism agenda of her country and the premium its places on the Nigerian market among other related issues.
What are your core responsibilities as the regional director of SAT for Africa?
My responsibilities includes coming up with strategies in terms of how we promote South Africa Tourism in different markets in the continent. Currently we have two countries which we are concentrating on in West Africa. Nigeria and Ghana and we call it the West Africa hub and in East Africa we look after Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. That forms our East Africa hub and then we have Angola and the whole of SADC excluding domestic tourism. So my responsibilities include how we engage with travel agents and tour operators and how we engage with the media in terms of media buying. And back home ensuring that we have tour operators in South Africa and South Africa products, which are hotels, tourist attractions and how we can work with them to promote South Africa in the different markets in the continent.
With the road show in Nigeria covering three cities you appeared to be making more inroads into the Nigerian market, what informed that?
Yes, we are extending our footprints into Nigeria and that is because of our regional manager, Pitson Hloni and our trade relations manager, Mohammed Tanko, who have also started to make sales pitches and calls to other cities in Nigeria. They were in Kano not too long ago, so we have actually started to spread our footprints within Nigeria. We’ve got what we actually call core markets. Nigeria is one of our core markets, Ghana is one, Kenya is another and Angola. Those are our three major markets.
How well have you done on the continent in recent years?
Last year we didn’t close the year very great in the continent, including Nigeria. We were on the minus however, in terms of revenue generated from travels, Nigeria and Angola contributed the most. In terms of arrivals we were in negative but positive in the amount of money that they spent while in South Africa. Nigeria and Angola actually made it possible for Africa, including the SADC to become fourth in terms of revenue in all our portfolios.
But which are you top rated source markets?
Our number one source market is the United Kingdom then the US and Germany. So you can imagine that in terms of spends we (African market) surpassed the Asian markets, we became fourth and the contribution is that important. Nigeria is one of our core markets. Arrivals were down by -10% compared to the same period in 2014 while it is 7% more on spends. (Average spends increased from R12, 200 in 2014 to R19, 600 in 2015 while current arrivals; January – April 2016 is 21, 991, an increased of eight percent compared to same period in 2015). That also said to us that in terms of the campaigns that we are executing as we have started selling the destination more than what people knew of it before. People knew Johannesburg, we continued by selling Johannesburg and the surroundings like Tshwane and people are getting to know more about that and they are getting to know more about Cape Town and the surrounds of Cape Town. Durban for example we started selling last year to extend the offerings and this year we started selling Mpumalanga. So now that in itself for me even though the numbers in terms of actual arrivals was down and spends was up it actually showed that our campaigns worked in the market. Hence we are just extending what we did last year.
What is your future projection for the continental market?
Obviously, we are currently looking at growing our market by at least five to six percent averagely in the continent and for people to actually get to know more of South Africa and not only the major cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg. But to actually know what lies throughout the country and getting to know more importantly about the South African people.
What has been your greatest strength in selling the destination?
It is actually having a knowledgeable team and a hardworking team. The team that we have here led by Hloni Pitson (Regional Manager, West Africa) is actually doing a phenomenon work and the team that I have back in South Africa that works throughout the continent marks life a whole lot easy. So knowledgeable, skilled and hardworking team is my backbone in terms of making what I do much easier.
How challenging it is for you selling the destination in Nigeria market?
Like any other market sometimes it is easy and sometimes it is not so easy but the thing that have contributed to the ease of selling in Nigeria and promoting in Nigeria is because we have been con-sistent, we try so hard to ensure that whatever it is that we have done we don’t actually lose momentum so that we can actually grown year on year. However, as you know we have a couple of barriers in terms of visa processing and we continue to engage through our ministry with the ministry of tourism and also our mission here in Nigeria as well as tourism associations like the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) and Nigeria Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) just to get more information and those information we pass them on.
…the cost of doing business in Nigeria
So it is beginning to be easy in terms of the barriers but I think the cost of doing business in Nigeria is also a challenge. We would like to have events in most cities but because of these issues you term to do less.
…the social media has helped
However, the other thing that contributes to the ease is the social media and digital marketing. So that has actually made it so much easy and word of mouth. Like during workshops and also hosting both media and trade and individuals like your celebrities. These have actually contributed tremendously and we can never be thankful of the partnerships that we have actually had.
How fulfilling has it been for you working on the continent?
Just being part of the continent. As you know for us South Africans the world has been so closed for us and just getting to know how wonderful we are as a people, as black people, as Africans, for me that is very fulfilling. Being in different regions and getting to know how strong Africans are personally brings me joy and it actually gives me hope in terms of the generation to come. To actually know that I have contributed positively to the advancement of an individual and their businesses actually gives me joy. Those are the things that make this job exciting.