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  • It’s Time for Backbone

    SA Tourism Update recently published some startling news. Comparison between the first quarter 2014 and 2015 suggest that international tourism to SA has dropped by some 7% whereas globally it has increased by 4%. Our Consumer Confidence Index is the lowest for 14 years and there are indications that our province’s domestic tourism market share is under pressure.

    South Africans are feeling the financial pinch with the result that families either take fewer holiday breaks or even none at all and that sends us a challenge we all have to meet.

    Business gurus have over the decades reported that when the financial chips are down many companies and brand managers reduce their marketing and promotional spend- much to their peril. They advocate that products and services should sustain or even grow their marketing presence that to come through lulled economic periods.

    Tourism is a highly competitive business not only between hospitality and service providers but destinations themselves. We are no exception and when there is shrinkage in market size (due to personal and family budget curbs) the battle for the tourism Rand really intensifies.

    We at Ugu South Coast Tourism are not shying away from our marketing and promotional mandate. Our approach in these lean times is to show backbone and aggressively advertise and promote our district. In fact initial indicators are that we have exceeded our promotional, media and publicity targets for this year- and we will continue to invest in such programmes for the benefit of our local economy.

    In development curricula, there is the model that speaks of the spiral towards poverty. If we talk and act within the confines of negativity, that disconcerting spiral comes into play. I would like to think that our tourism sector has every intention of breaking up any signs of that regression.

    Part of the mitigation process lies in extended destination marketing and promotion, common belief in the merits of our destination, hyped up and creative own business marketing, broadening access to new market segments and the principle of meeting or bettering the experiential promise.

    Tourism consultants often suggest a marketing spend for existing businesses of between 7-9% of targeted turnover (for start up businesses approximately 12-15%). I wonder how many tourism enterprises do that - especially when the chase for the consumer buck is during these pressured times very much a la “dog eat dog”.

    We believe in the fill the glass principle (not half anything) and will strive to ensure that our great destination has the spine to successfully meet challenge and greet our markets.

    Full story

  • What’s In An Event?

    We often receive a number of funding enquiries from throughout our district and in many instances we provide sponsorships within certain key criteria.

    Our job is to attract as many visitors as possible to the Greater South Coast so if an event locks in many and mostly overnight paying tourists that is a good indicator for support.

    Secondly if an event has the potential to secure extensive media (electronic and hard copy) with a quantifiable value of exposure, the publicity worth is also factored into the funding mix.

    If a sports, cultural, lifestyle arts/entertainment occasion creates an element of value adding for visitors during their stay, we believe that the enhancement of visitor experience is critical in impressing our markets and securing repeat visitations. It is for this reason that we fund seasonal campaigns and add on events around our busiest holiday periods.

    Funding cannot be on a never-never basis and as such, events have to show some sort of trend towards sustainability. We usually reduce funding over the short term which then releases budget allocations towards new event initiatives. This approach I believe results in our destination having one of the busiest event calendars around.

    One of the difficulties we face is the assessment of applicant budgets which are not as definitive as we would expect. One poor budget plan can blow the event profitability out of the water. We assist where we can but if we are not convinced that an event has financial legs we cannot render support.

    There is the ever present assumption that government departments, municipalities and organisations like us are a treasure trove for grant funding and our concern is that a lot of event promoters are too ready to tap into tax payer monies as opposed to going the private/corporate sector.

    Some iconic events (e.g. Sani 2 C and Splashy Fen (in the Drakensberg) evolved from an idea that was then pursued with passion and then the sponsors came knocking. Today those events do not require government funds and yet they are great success stories.

    We would like to think the private sector drive coupled with some input from us and substantive support from corporate sponsors is an ideal meld for event success.

    We are an eventing paradise so I am all ears to hear from those with a dream, the drive and the wherewithal to make things happen- it all benefits our tourism at the end of the day.

    Full story

  • Every Picture Tells A Story

    As part of our publicity alignment programmes, I often purchase and review travel and leisure publications to ascertain the topics and themes journalists write about and then determine if we can win the publication over to do a feature or item on the greater South Coast.

    What is interesting is that nearly all the respected publications do have sections dedicated to photography. Invariably they print reader submissions of classic shots and in many instances they offer some great prizes for selected or winning photographs.

    This thus presents an amazing publicity opportunity. I have no doubt that in our district we have many outstanding amateur and professional photographers who have or want to have a brilliant portfolio of photographs of our wonderful ocean and terrestrial landscapes and within which a variety of human and natural studies can be undertaken.

    We are not in a position to enter photographic competitions as described above as it is the photographer who needs all the credit and accolades that accrue. What we do suggest is that our passionate photographers contemplate submitting their shots of our destination to the various publications. Each published photograph is often worth hundreds of words.

    Our coastal and rural environs are full of photographic bounty and there is no doubt that that photos submitted to publications and even posted on the internet can go a long way in selling the assets of our area.
    We also have a photographic library for possible use in our marketing tools so if any photographer would like to donate their favourite South Coast photos to us (we will acknowledge them in publications) we will be grateful.

    In closing, imagine the publicity value Great Britain and in particular London received through photographer postings of those millions of synthetic red poppies surrounding the iconic Tower of London to commemorate the devastating World War 1. On the home front how photographed and story lined was that fly over by a Boeing at the Rugby World Cup Final in 1995?

    It is clear that an image in time can illicit huge interest in an event, a moment in history, that special occasion and a place. We are a photographer’s paradise so I guess this is a bit of an invitation for all photographic junkies and the public in general to positively portray our destination using publications and the modern communication avenues.

    I had better get clicking on my somewhat outdated mobile phone- who knows I could end up winning some inconceivably expensive camera in the process.

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  • Visiting Friends and Relatives

    Statistics via Tourism KwaZulu-Natal indicate that some 21% of our overseas and Africa based visitors and a staggering 53% of domestic visitors to our province use Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) as the reason for their going to a destination.

    VFR has some interesting guises all of which contribute towards a tourism economy. As a sampling, the family who visits somebody in prison (think of Kokstad), a loved one in hospital, a wedding, a funeral, those who are at some boarding school or university or those who are in a retirement complex.

    One can go further, school reunions and in the USA for example military reunions are huge business for local tourism- why?  To reunite family, comrades and friends.

    In Scotland, clan gatherings are massive especially when many of the “macs” from all over the world pout with tartan pride to the whirl of the bagpipes alongside some windswept loch, snow capped highland peak and a long ruined castle. This is not too different when locally, occasions are held within the extended family and tribal structures of our proud Nguni communities.

    VFR applies to our rural communities where often family members work away from their traditional family hearths and frequently return to cherish family ties and cultural occasions. This is a huge and often unquantifiable element of our tourism industry.

    For logistical, economic or even personal reasons many VFR visitors choose not to actually stay with their family and friends and as such, local hospitality establishments receive the spin off from these guests. This alternative use of hospitality takes place in both the informal and formal segments of our tourism industry.

    By actually staying with family or friends, there is usually a significant saving for the visitor- we hope that in saving on accommodation, our VFR guests will reallocate spend towards retail and entertainment which are important elements within the tourism value chain.

    I have a friend who happily received a visit from his son from the USA. Two years later the son is still in the home and without contribution draining the family coffers. The lesson for VFR guests thus has to be- do not overstay your welcome you may never get a re-invite again.

    Our South Coast is very much a family orientated destination so in essence we are all hosting ambassadors. To my way of thinking as many households as possible should have a copy of the Southern Explorer so that touring options for our VFR tourist are recommended to them.

    In so doing, a big slice of our tourism market can really savour the Greater South Coast.

    Full story

  • The Act of Giving

    For my sins and through the initiative of the Wild Coast Sun, I was part of a group of who slept outdoors in aid of a nationally orientated fund raising initiative (via Radio 702) for the homeless children in our country.

    Besides Sun International’s own generous contributions, our tourism community has also made much appreciated pledges towards this good cause- hence my rather uncomfortable night under the stars in close proximity to the repetitive rumbling of the waves.

    What is seriously impressive to me is how giving our South Coast tourism industry is. When we do promotions and campaigns, we often ask of our members for prizes, giveaways, trade and media hosting trips etc. all as a means of inducing consumer and publicity interest in our destination.

    Our marketing team informs me that this year alone over R500 000 in contribution value has come from our committed members. This in my opinion is phenomenal and certainly much appreciated. I often ask other destination areas to what extent they have similar support and their dejected response has been “People seem to do their own thing and do not see the bigger picture”.  When it is indicated to them what our experience is down here, they seem rather bleak and envious.

    Our members do not pay huge membership fees (R360 per annum) yet their own investment on joint advertising campaigns, being with us at promotions and making contributions mentioned above indicates to me that our area has a very special tourism community.

    Often it is the non members who derive income from tourism who offer glum critique of our tourism efforts. I really recommend that such persons get onto our energetic tourism bus- the benefits far outweigh the paradigm of passive negativity.

    Finally a big thanks to the Wild Coast Sun for arranging raising sleep out at their beautiful property and from which, local recruited funds will contribute towards some R25 million raised round the country.  I have no intention of being homeless in paradise- my aching back and baggy eyes bear testimony to that. Next time a younger colleague will be press ganged into sleeping rough.

    In the act of giving we can collectively say with pride that our tourism sector is a very giving one- long may this last.

    Tonight I look forward to the comfort of my home with more gratitude than ever.

    Have a great Sardine Festival time – the whales are certainly celebrating their presence on our coast.

    Full story

  • Going to the Future

    In an article presented in the online Tourism Update, I was interested to see what Dutch futurist Albert Postma had to say about tourism trends for our continent.

    The article suggested that in forward planning, destinations (including ours) need to bear in mind some provoking considerations.

    Going to the future we need to recognise the importance of the more mature (age wise) traveller and plan for their interests and expectations. In planning one also has to recognise economic disparity within society and gear the tourism sell towards the various Living Standards Measure profiles recognising that many simply do not have the means to travel.

    Modern urbanites seek authentic experiences through an element of nostalgia and given our cultural heritage assets, this has to be important. I am reminded of a trip to Australia where I attended a “show” on the Aboriginal culture near Cairns in Queensland. I really felt that the depth of that amazingly rich culture was not adequately presented and the in and out of coaches and many camera clicking Japanese tourists like a cattle parade was the contrived and insincere intention.

    Today’s tourist does shop around for online price benefit and our industry has to be realistic in how we cost our services. I have been told that during Africa Bike Week some hospitality providers pumped up their prices to unreasonable levels- my belief is that if we are consistent and appropriate in our pricing there are much better longer term prospects for the Greater South Coast. The Western Cape for example has in many instances priced its hospitality towards the Pound, Euro or Dollar based spender with the result that part of our domestic market has swung towards more value for money places for a holiday. We cannot fall into the risky trap of overpricing.

    The other day I was at a world famous fast food outlet in Umhlanga Rocks and a sign in the outside area read “No Meetings- Seating for Eating Customers Only”. Depending on how you read it, the patron either enjoys their meal or becomes the meal. If one equates that to pricing in our industry, the same principle applies.

    There is scope for new markets stemming from Brazil, Russia, India and China and I know SA Tourism and Tourism KwaZulu Natal have recognised this opportunity. Another trend is for extended families to hold reunions. Many of our families are dotted all over the world and it is this “come together tourism” that could be an option for us.

    The mobile phone culture is here to stay and is being found across all age groups- hence our industry’s need to keep up to speed in terms of apps, Facebook, Twitter etc. Word of mouth – now word of screen is THE most significant form of reputation marketing so if we get the experience right, our clients will do a further sell for us.

    Here in Paradise if we use that gadget called the mobile phone to spread a positive word about our destination we all contribute towards that magnetic vibe to bring people down here.

    It was great that the sardines came to visit – let us hope others (like holidaymakers) will follow suit during the event filled mid year period we fondly refer to as Sardine Festival time.

    Full story

  • Visas and Visitors

    The tourism industry as well as Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom, have expressed deep concern relating to the visa requirements for foreign nationals coming to South Africa. Although yet to be fully implemented our, visa requirements have been slated as being onerous and impractical to the extent that foreign visitation to our country could reduce as opposed to actually growing.

    Based on Tourism KwaZulu-Natal’s Statistics of Our Tourism Sector 2014, nationally we hosted some 9.62 foreign visitors and about 12 million domestic travellers (25.2 million trips). What is interesting is that the figures indicate that the per capita spend per day for foreigners is suggested at R870 per day in comparison to R210 per day for South Africans- the latter amount being as a result of very high numbers staying with family and friends.

    On the basis of the above it is clear that the tourism revenue yield (direct spend of R70.3 billion) from our foreign markets is very significant and any stringent visa regulations could dent the “export” earnings derived from our foreign guests.

    In the Western Cape this is of particular concern as that province has a juicy slice of our foreign market. When one is very reliant on overseas visitation an element of risk exists- visa obstructions, crime related publicity, a global catastrophe and war all create market reticence for long haul travel.

    Here on the South Coast, I have always held the belief that if we look after and market for our domestic tourist (who is a more resilient traveller) we will sustain our bread and butter tourism economy. Overseas visitors (about 10-15% of our market) are in truth the valued cherry on top.

    Our marketing ventures are geared to retain and grow our South Africa visitor and strategically target special interest niches from abroad. We are fortunate that we are not overly challenged by this visa saga – certainly and understandably the Western Cape is going all out to ensure that the regulations are amended.

    Ease of access to a destination is one of the most critical elements in determining where a tourist decides to go- I trust that our authorities will consider the tourism sector’s submissions and find a win-win situation for our industry and country.

    So in the mean time, Paradise of open for business- no visa (for SA folk) required.

    Full story

  • Different Makes The Difference

    Last week Ugu South Coast Tourism in collaboration with South African Tourism (SAT) hosted a very well attended and informative tourism packaging workshop in Margate.

    The SAT presenters showed us statistics and trends involving our foreign and domestic markets as an insight into achieving market penetration. In looking at the figures, I was reminded of how small fry our tourism is in terms of international and domestic visitor volumes abroad.

    In 2013, South Africa received some 9.62 foreign tourists yet in the USA, Lake Mead (of Nevada’s Hoover Dam fame) hosted some 9 million recreationalists and sightseers- one lake in a desert region hosting an equivalent number of visitors as the whole of South Africa’s foreign visitation!

    Our response the competitive challenge is to establish our destination sell by being different and as unique as possible- mundane does not work in tourism.

    In the Netherlands there is a property called the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel which sells itself as the worst hotel in the world. Its marketing and sell is based on really poor service and questionable hospitality offerings.

    Their advertising and slogans are quirky, off the wall and at times insane- yet this uniqueness has resulted in it being fully booked all year round. For entertainment, google this fascinating place.

    I am not advocating that the South Coast aspire to being the worst of anything but in being different does make a difference. If we have exceptional service, the largest, highest, rarest, best and most of and the likes then we can establish a base of Unique Selling Propositions (USPs) (e.g. our two top 10 dives sites in the world or the world’s southern most coffee plantation or South Africa’s largest privately owned astronomy collection and planetarium) – then we have hooks we can utilise to capture the imagination of our tourists.

    Given that we compete with a plethora of coastal destinations in South Africa and abroad, it is this collective of USPs that will win over our tourism clients. We have adopted this approach in our marketing and advertising campaigns which it appears seem to be bearing fruit.

    Many of our members report higher influxes of overseas visitors than expected and retailers are reporting increased turnover over what have been normally trough periods in our calendar year.

    So in conclusion, whilst I may not venture to one day staying at the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel, I do believe that the professional creativity of both the private sector and ourselves backed up with solid attention to excellence can make the sort of difference towards tourism growth- our Paradise with a capital P.

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  • Letting The Side Down

    A fortnight ago, our team attended the Tourism Indaba South Africa’s tourism showpiece held each year in Durban. Not only is this a major opportunity for our country and province to sell its tourism attributes but also for Durban to do likewise.

    To put it bluntly however, the mid range beachfront hotel we stayed in let the proverbial tourism team down.

    Firstly, on arrival one of my colleague’s bed linen had not been properly laundered which resulted in her preference to check out and stay with a family member. The corridors smelt as if carpets had been steam cleaned but had not properly dried and in my unit, cockroaches thought it was a good time of year to holiday in Durban.

    To compound it all, two of the three rickety lifts broke down on day 2 which resulted in much up and down stairs which was an inconvenience which by the time we left had not been rectified.

    I have no doubt that the hotel had other guests who were either exhibitors and/or buyers at Indaba 2015 and if their experience was anything similar to what we had to endure, they will be rather reluctant to praise the hospitality in our gateway city.

    What is clear that one poorly managed hotel can spoil things for our sector as well as a destination. We in the Ugu District are not immune to the vagaries in the presentation of our hospitality and its allied services as one rotten fruit does spoil the basket.

    For this reason, our membership personnel do their utmost to ensure that standards are continually aspired to and when the side is being let down every effort is made to rectify the situation.

    We as a policy do not recommend any establishment that is not a member of ours and if there are “fly by nights” out there, we encourage them to join so that we can assist them in being a team player when it comes to the reputation of our Paradise.

    Other than that, being at Indaba 2015 presented us with a number of exciting promotional avenues as well as us being able to expand on our already large contact network within the tourism trade.

    Hopefully next year we will have better accommodation- otherwise I may graduate to camping in Albert Park!

    Generally we can be justifiably proud of our hospitality offerings- long may it last to the benefit of our tourism reputation.

    Full story

  • Towards Our Mid Year Season

    Now that Harleyville (Margate) has said its fond farewells to the biking community, it won’t be long before the mid-year school break is on us with all the trappings of families, surfboards, braais, shisa nyama, MTBs and fishing rods.

    I am loathe to call June and July our winter season because there are so few days that one even contemplates wearing a jersey! This is Sardine Festival time and Ugu South Coast Tourism’s events team in conjunction with other event practitioners is in the process of creating an impressive season of events.

    Naturally we will be using the media and other communications avenues to convey to our markets and the public what will be happening during the festival. I would suggest that in advance of our event schedules it may be an idea for our South Coasters to invite friends and family down here during the next school holidays.

    After all who wants to be on the Highveld during their winter?

    During our ‘winter’ months our seas are stunningly blue with great surfing waves and our days moderate and sunny. As an alternative to the hectic summer season, we should also be encouraging the customer to come down during the Sardine Festival which has a broad set of event options over a large geographic area.

    The other day some Area Committee members and our personnel conducted a beach tour from Scottburgh to Port Edward. Expecting to find many of our beach facilities in dire straits I am pleased to say that within the Hibiscus Coast Municipal (HCM) area, there have been a number of improvements since our 2014 tour- congratulations to HCM for those facilities that have been upgraded and/or repaired.

    If this impetus can be sustained, I am sure we will soon be the envy of our competitor destinations.

    During Africa Bike Week, I sat with visitors to ask their impressions of the South Coast and their opinion is that it is the best motor bike event of its type in South Africa- the reason being that besides the bikers gloating at thousands of machines, there was well managed entertainment, great places for out rides and if you wanted to, many places to just chill.

    During our key holiday and even based periods it is that combination of true leisure mixed with entertainment for all tastes (e.g. Ugu Jazz Festival) that will sustain our reputation as being a favourite destination amongst all South Africans.

    Let’s pray that the Sardines paddle up the coast and do their duty this year.

    Full story

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