Riding on a strong growth in tourist arrivals in 2016, South African President Jacob Zuma inaugurated the INDABA tourism fair in Durban yesterday urging other African nations to leverage their tourism potential from source markets such as India, just as his nation has done.
“Africa enjoyed an eight percent increase in international tourist arrivals to reach 58 million arrivals. This means that Africa is growing at twice the rate of the global average. However, these arrivals to the continent represent only five percent of the one billion global tourists”, said Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, during his inaugural address.
Indaba is by far the largest tourism fair in the African continent. Besides South Africa, tourism professionals from 21 other African countries will exhibit till May, 19th at a fair that attracts buyers and leading travel companies, as well as media, from around the world. “It is important to work together as Africans. At the African Union level, Africa is investing in infrastructure development projects that will help us to promote tourism. One of the key goals is to work towards a seamless travel experience across the continent,”added Zuma.
“Indians feel at home in South Africa”
India turned out to be one of the best performing market for South Africa, with a growth of 21 percent in 2016, as against the average increase of 13 percent for the country as a whole.
“South Africa is a melting pot of cultures, so the tourists feel very comfortable here and our rich culture and history makes us a destination for India, especially because the relations between our two nations are very close. Now as BRICS members, but even much before BRICS came about, as there is a very large Indian population here in South Africa, dating to over 150 years ago,” Tourism Minister Tokozile Xasa, told Media India Group in an exclusive interview at INDABA.
“We had already doubled our market in India between 2009 and 2013. In 2014, we lost a bit of ground due to air connectivity and visa backlog, but now we are back in force,” added Hanneli Slabber, CEO of South Africa Tourism in India, who has seen the outbound tourism to South Africa grow dramatically in the past eight years.
Partnering beyond tourism
South Africa is also looking for lucrative segments like MICE and business travel in the Indian market. “We are focusing more on developing the offers in leisure and also in MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions). Already, we are the largest in this segment in entire Middle East and Africa, but we can grow much more and we are focusing on developing the infrastructure for welcoming more MICE from India and other countries. Also because we have seen that most of our business travellers come back as leisure tourists,” said Xasa.
“There is a lot more potential in the Indian market. Our common culture and heritage is of course a strong point, but the last time I was in India, I was looking at in which other areas can be expand our relations. I think we can do much more in small and medium enterprise segment and also vis a vis women in business. We want to partner more and learn more in these areas. There is a lot of scope for collaboration between India and South Africa here,” explained the Minister.
To promote cultural tourism, South Africa Tourism has developed new options like home stays. “We have developed home stays, because people want to go to new places, far from the crowd and the ‘touristic places’, they want to experience South Africa like a local, eat like a local, live like a local,” said Slabber.
Adapting to Indian expectations
Slabber says South Africa has rapidly adapted to the Indian expectations. “Seven years ago, one of our major drawbacks and barriers for travel from India was about food. Most Indians thought they could not get the food that they could eat here. Today, in South Africa, you will not find a restaurant that does not have vegetarian food on its menu. It is freely available now not only in metro cities but also small towns in the countryside,” she added.
Promoting tourism to Africa has not been without its challenges, though. Crime figures high on the list. Along with other African nations, South Africa is also perceived as dangerous. But Slabber says that the reality on the ground is different. “What we have done incredibly badly is how we have marketed South Africa after 1994. Earlier, we did have a problem of crime. But we have not managed to do is to communicate how the country has moved from 1994 to 2017. To reassure our tourists, we have also had for a while a unique telephone number for tourist safety where the tourists can be facilitated in terms of lost passports and documents, pretty much like India has done now.”
South Africa also suffers from incidents in other African nations, even if they happen far away. One such case was the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which dampened the traffic from India. “Indians dont realize that they are as far from Rome as we in South Africa were from the Ebola affected areas. We have to go beyond the clichés”, explained Slabber.
Another drawback is the air connectivity. South African Airways has still not re-started its direct flights to India. The lack of options, often obliges the tourists to go through a long and difficult journey. “We are trying to come up with solution as far as the air connectivity is concerned. There is no direct flight and looking at a huge country like India, it is a major concern, but there are a few airlines who adapted their timings in order to facilitate travel to South Africa. We are collaborating with Rwanda Airlines that has recently started its first direct flight from Mumbai to Kigali and from there to Cape Town. The fares are extremely attractive, about 25,000 INR including taxes. We are also collaborating with Etihad and Abu Dhabi to have improved connectivity with India,” said Slabber.