Q&A: A Whole New World

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Anita Mendiratta – Author: ‘Come Closer – How Tourism is Shaping The Future of Nations’

What are your thoughts on the state of South African and African tourism, as a whole?

The African continent continues to enjoy overall positive growth in tourism, both leisure and business. While the period of 2009/10, the most credit clenched of the global economic crisis, saw a sharp end to the great growth rates being seen in global tourism, in the first part of 2011, Sub-Saharan Africa enjoyed growth alone at around 8%, far out performing global growth of 4.5%. It must be noted that sadly, the storms of the Arab Spring of 2011 have cost North Africa in visitor numbers. The 2010 FIFA World Cup continues to return dividends as far as global perceptions of South Africa, and Africa, are concerned, with regards traveller and investor confidence. But, the sector must make every effort to ensure that it is engineered for growth, from promise to delivery, across hardware (ie. access, visa policies, infrastructure) and software (ie. tourism sector skills development, branding, destination promotion, packaging of experiences and service culture). 

Does business travel have the ability to eclipse leisure travel in Africa?

Business travel to Africa represents a critical ‘first impression’ for many markets, so that travellers can get a taste of all that they can see, do, feel, and share when they return as a leisure traveller. Also, because of the cyclical, season-based nature of both business and leisure tourism, especially leisure, business travel should always be seen as a complement to leisure travel, as it helps ensure year-round visitation.

What are the biggest challenges that African tourism faces? 

The greatest challenge for African tourism is not just the continent’s various destinations competing successfully against one another, but also their ability to cooperate for greater growth of African tourism as regions and as a continent. Global interest in travel to Africa is still young. It needs focused attention and investment for there to be a sustainable step-change in increases in awareness, arrivals and advocacy. African destinations will achieve far more working together than by competing head-on. 

How has travel changed over the years?

The industry has seen dramatic change over the past decade, especially with the global downturn and its impact on travel. Interestingly, from a leisure perspective, the more pressure people have been under, the more they have needed to get away. How has this been afforded? Easy – by shifting from using a travel agent to booking directly through travel search engines. The ‘where’ and ‘when’ has become less important in the decision making than the ‘for how much’. Budget airlines and hotels have shifted from being ‘cheap’ to being ‘clever’. And, sadly for the airlines and hotels, brand names matter less. From a business travel perspective, the segment of travel worst hit during the global recession, technology has stepped in, in the form of applications such as Skype. Still, when it comes to partnership development and final decision making, travel is still seen as critically important. A study conducted by USTA and the Destination Travel Association in 2009 revealed that:

–          For every dollar invested in business travel, companies realise $12.50 in incremental revenue

–          For every year that travel is suspended, it takes three years to recover lost earnings and lost relationship equity

–          According to business travellers across all industries, 25% of existing customers and 28% of revenue could be lost to competitors if customers are not met in person

As business travel picks up, business travel companies need to ensure that they are understanding of the evolving needs of business travellers, not just in the ‘getting there’ process. Business services offered by agents, airlines and hotels have become valuable sources of customer attraction and retention. Today’s business demands that we are always connected, to our businesses, to our friends and family, and to ourselves. The more travel experiences can strengthen the ability of business travellers to remain connected, the more customer interest will turn to loyalty.

Price matters, it always will. Worth, however, will always matter more.

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