As South Africa basks in its resurgence as a formidable global player in the travel and tourism industry, there has never been a more opportune moment to reinvigorate our strategies for destination marketing.
Earlier this year, readers of the UK newspaper The Telegraph voted South Africa “The Best Country to Visit” in the World, and Cape Town as the Best City in the World at the 2023 Telegraph Travel Awards. South Africa beat places like New Zealand, Maldives, and Japan, while Cape Town won over cities like Venice, Seville, and Vancouver.
Why do international travellers love South Africa so much? The answer isn’t hard to find. South Africa offers something a wide variety of experiences to cater for varied preferences – from stunning sunsets over the ocean, thrilling wildlife safaris, rich culture and history, friendly people and world-class infrastructure. Few countries can offer all this.
Of course, the acknowledgement of South Africa as a premier destination is also thanks to the tireless work done by the greater South African tourism sector. We have been hard at work telling South African stories of excellence and exceptionalism to various markets across the globe.
This work has intensified over the past year after the relaxation of the Covid restrictions as we seek to recover to pre-pandemic levels. The results are starting to show.
From January to August this year, close to 5, 5 million international visitors came to our shores, up from just 2, 1 million during the same period last year.
While we are excited and we rejoice at these impressive numbers, they’re not yet at Pre-covid (2019) levels. This encourages us to work even harder, to boost our marketing and show the world what our country has to offer. And who better to help us than one of South Africa’s greatest sports heroes, Siya Kolisi, the captain of our beloved national rugby team, the Springboks?
Earlier this year, Kolisi joined forces with South African Tourism as a global brand advocate. With this title, he is taking on the role of proudly championing our beautiful country to the world. South Africa is bursting with talented, accomplished individuals and Kolisi stands out. At 32, he’s not just a sports star; he embodies the spirit, excellence, and passion we want to showcase about South Africa.
Who can forget 2019 when Kolisi led the Springboks to their third World Cup victory in Japan? But his impact goes beyond the game. As the first black captain of the Springboks, he has become a symbol of reconciliation, transformation, and unity, all values that brand South Africa holds dear.
This year, as Kolisi aims to repeat that 2019 triumph at the Rugby World Cup in France that is currently underway, through his love for his country, he’s also working with us to bring tourism back to the levels we enjoyed 2019 before Covid-19 changed everything.
“I’m super excited about this partnership because as a proud advocate for our country, I’ve always spoken about how much I love South Africa, and what a special place it is. I see this partnership as an opportunity to promote the entire tourism sector in South Africa, and I want to be a leading voice in encouraging everyone to come and see the best of what the country, and we as South Africans, have to offer,” says Kolisi.
Siya Kolisi stands tall in the world of sports, not just for his performance on the field but also for his influence off it. In 2020, this was confirmed when Rugby World magazine honoured him as one of rugby’s most influential people.
The South African story has always been intertwined with sports. Who can forget the 1995 Rugby World Cup? It was the first major sporting event in democratic South Africa, and it played a key role in uniting our nation. President Nelson Mandela embraced this opportunity, rallying all South Africans behind the Springbok team, led then by Captain Francois Pienaar. This remarkable chapter in our history even inspired the movie “Invictus,” with Morgan Freeman portraying Mandela and Matt Damon as Pienaar.
Working with Kolisi, we are inviting the world to see our country as a place that’s welcoming, friendly, and full of fun. A place where travellers can explore a diverse range of attractions to meet their needs and pockets. We’re not just looking back; we’re looking forward. We’re excited, inspired, and ready to show the world the wonders of our country.
At South African Tourism, we are committed to showcasing our country’s excellence in many fields including sports, the arts, and the sciences. South Africa is a hotbed of talent from cutting-edge scientific and medical research that shone during the pandemic to the Hollywood stars and world-famous musicians we’ve gifted to the world. Our athletes dominate their fields, and our culture is rich with stories that are not only unique but exceptional.
But why is this re-framing so vital? Often, countries don’t have control over how they’re portrayed on the global stage. These perceptions can have real impacts, influencing who decides to visit for business, leisure, adventure, or events.
That’s why we’re taking the lead in telling our own story. We want to ensure that South Africa is known for what it truly is: a nation filled with excellence in every aspect. It’s not just a promise – it is a reality visitors experience at every point of their journey when they come to our shores.
In line with our commitments in the SA Tourism Sector Recovery Plan, we’re not just building for today. Over the next few months we will roll out an exciting campaign that also includes specific efforts to re-ignite the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Events (MICE) market, which plays a vital role in our tourism economy.
We’re working on a pipeline to host future local and international conferences and mega-events. We are also intensifying our campaigns targeting the domestic market. But as we intensify all these marketing efforts, we also focus on ensuring a more coordinated approach. We want a unified message that consistently and compellingly promotes our destination.
Success in this arena requires collaboration between industry stakeholders, government, and the private sector. By working together, we’re confident that we can enhance the positive impact of tourism on our nation’s economic growth, job creation, and social development.
Our efforts are aimed at not just preserving what we have but building a brighter and more prosperous future for our tourism industry and our country. It’s about more than just selling a destination; it’s about showcasing a legacy and promising an extraordinary experience.
Our bold investments and strategic decisions are guided by a vision to ignite a sector brimming with dynamism. We see a future where our efforts can chip away at the barriers of economic stagnation, unemployment. We recognise the potential and are committed to harnessing it to forge a more prosperous and equitable nation.
Our momentous revival in tourism has indeed set the stage for a new chapter let us grab it with both hands.
Auret Bronwen is Acting Chief Marketing Officer at South African Tourism