Travel weekly talks with South African Tourism’s acting CEO, Themba Khumalo, who shares how the African continent can excite the international market and how travel agents will play a key role.
Themba Khumalo: The bounce back actually began during lockdown because we were forced as a group of people to look within. Before the pandemic, the supply side was good to service international markets and then all of a sudden, all of that went away.
I believe we’re in better shape now than we were when we went into the pandemic. So that, for me, was the first indication of the recovery.
And then from an international standpoint, when the UK took us off the red list, and then the US, and especially Emirates because that’s a big hub that distributes traffic across the world. Once we were off those red lists, the international part of the recovery was well underway.
We were forced to look within and we had to look at every single market and build a resilient and sustainable domestic tourism market.
Self-reliance and self-sustainability is the cornerstone for a thriving tourism market internationally. A lot of work has also been done in the structure of offering, and pricing.
Travel Weekly: How will you get Australians to sell your product?”
TK: Firstly, let me say this; we are more similar than different. When you look at the climatic conditions here, when you look at the cultural conditions, and the infrastructure, we’re not that different as markets.
So, visiting one another should be a natural thing. The challenge is making sure that we’ve got the right connectivity in order for Australians to travel to South Africa and South Africans to travel, to Australia.
South Africa Tourism is deep in talks with the South Africa Airways executives, and the Star Alliance partners to solve some of those challenges.
TW: Where do you expect growth to be?
TK: Well, you have to start with our sporting connection, because sports tourism is going to be a huge, huge growth trajectory.
People have been starved of live sport engagement, so we are confident it is going to grow exponentially.
TW: What is your aspiration for South Africa as a destination that Australians might be interested to hear?
TK: The biggest thing that we’ve been working on, throughout the lockdown period, is to build a lifestyle pillar.
I believe that that is where, between South Africa and Australia, we can really find one another.
I’m not just talking about getting Australians coming to South Africa but also about South Africans going to Australia.
In order for us as a country to become a better host for international visitors coming in, we need to have more South Africans travelling to the destinations that we’re trying to attract. Not just for the tourism sector, but broadly as a country.
TW: What is really important for you that you want Australian travellers to know?
TK: I deeply care about inclusive tourism, where it’s not just about the commercial platform, but how do you bring in people, and the communities with you.
How does tourism impact the livelihoods of people? It is not just about hotels and beautiful beaches but the fundamental issues that people care about.
And that is how I believe we are going to grow tourism together, South Africa and Australia.
TW: How important will travel agents be in this future?
TK: With COVID, people had bookings, and this is a global thing with cancellations or delays that make direct bookings more complex now.
Travellers want to know if there’s a cancellation, if something happens, they want to know that there is somebody they can call and rely on.
We’re seeing a reverse of the direct booking trend.
People here are saying, I know I can do the booking but if something goes wrong, then I’ve got no one to call no one to help me resolve things.