Kickoff: Tournament helps market SA
Jul 4, 2010 12:00 AM | By Basil Grant
The competition has been good for those in the tourism industry who didn’t expect limitless wealth to flow from fans, writes Basil Grant

PEOPLE PERSON: Former Fulbright scholar Sertorio Mshothola, who owns and operates a small tour agency in Nelspruit, has carved a niche for himself in a competitive market

But in a business where profile and contacts are everything, how does the smaller tourism operator get a look in?

 The World Cup may not have granted wealth beyond the dreams of avarice that many in the tourism industry were hoping for, but the tournament has provided an excellent base from which local businesses can grow.
As David Ryan, founder of Rhino Africa, told delegates at a meeting of small, medium and micro enterprises recently, South Africa was doing a lot better than its competitors following the world credit crunch. The rest of the world showed a travel decline of about 4% last year, but SA had grown arrivals by 3.5%.

David, who only started his R200-million, 55-employee business five years ago, said that while the World Cup was proving to be a financial disappointment to many, it should still be considered an excellent marketing opportunity for South Africa, rather than an opportunity to make a quick buck. “That people pinned so much hope on a four-week event was absolutely crazy,” says David. “So was the idea of doubling or quadrupling rates.”

Those local tourism businesses which were weathering the economic storm were now “uniquely positioned to prosper,” David told the gathering on the sidelines of Indaba 2010, Africa’s largest travel showpiece, which was held in Durban in May.

But in a business where profile and contacts are everything, how does the smaller tourism operator – a B&B or tour guides – get a look in?

Sertorio Mshothola, owner of Ntwanano Tours and Travel in Nelspruit, is a former Fulbright scholar who lectured in the US and Mozambique, but who always yearned to run his own business, one that would let him work with people and, most importantly, in nature.

His four-man business offers tours of the Lowveld, transfers and bookings but, says Sertorio, as a smaller, relative newcomer to the travel business, he has had to differentiate himself.

Ntwanano does this by offering, for instance, Braille tours and “floral kingdom tours” that are tailored to clients’ requirements, lasting from one day to seven.

Sertorio is also exploiting the growing interest from foreign visitors who come to South Africa but want to go on excursions to neighbouring countries. Having lived in Mozambique during the liberation struggle, and being familiar with many of the important sites in and around Maputo, Sertorio has just launched a “freedom tour” which takes visitors across the border to see, for example, where the SADF raided ANC outposts in Matola.

Sertorio is a South African who speaks fluent Portuguese and, he says, he is turning this talent into a unique selling point.

“You’ve got to differentiate yourself,” he says.

“You’ve got to convince the market that you can do the basics at least as well as anyone else, but you’ve also got to offer them something different, something that will make them remember you.”

Covering the basics includes affiliating yourself with the right channels, Sertorio says. “I’m a member of the Lowveld Chamber of Commerce and I work closely with the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency. And we get amazing exposure from the SA Tourism website.” Affiliating with some of these publicly funded organisations doesn’t cost Ntwanano a cent, but Sertorio is willing to spend a buck to make a buck.

He believes that Ntwanano’s membership of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association is as good as an SABS stamp of approval.

“When people see that you are part of Satsa they take off their hats,” he says laughing. “For them it’s an important guarantee of professionalism and safety.”

At Indaba 2010, Ntwanano had a tiny stand, but at least it was there.

While SMMEs can often get subsidies for participation at such events, the costs of travelling and staying in cities like Durban during big events can mount up.

But they’re worth it, says Sertorio, if you approach the opportunity the right way.

He shows us a notebook in which he has carefully mapped out his day.

While his assistant mans the stand, Sertorio has almost hourly meetings with people who might refer business to Ntwanano, or who have sent it tourists before.

He needs to remind these contacts that he is still in business and tell them about his new service offerings, like the freedom tour.

But Dudu Ngomane of the Matsamo Cultural Park, on the border with Swaziland, says her business has had no bookings from the World Cup.

The park, which has accommodation in all-mod-cons Swazi-styled rondavels, decided not to affiliate with Fifa’s accommodation arm, Match. Although the World Cup is taking place during the traditional low season, it was decided to keep Matsamo open for tour operators who have been loyal for years.

Dudu says the quiet period is being used to do maintenance and marketing.

Barbara Hamm of the Bed and Breakfast Association of SA said that in its first two or three years of operation, a new guesthouse business should be prepared to devote at least 50% to 60% of expenditure to marketing. “A decent website is essential today,” says Barbara. “It has to be friendly towards the search engines and it needs to communicate clearly who you are, where you are and what you offer. Don’t get carried away with your website; keep it clean and simple.”

Barbara warns, however, that, unless you have at least six rooms and are “very well located”, you are unlikely to ever break even as a B&B.

Apart from having enough rooms so you can take advantage of bookings, research is key. Barbara says you must know your market, whether local or foreign, what might attract them to stay with you and when.

Helping Hands

Tourism is big business – a business that is dominated by a few big players. Many would-be tourism entrepreneurs are daunted by the difficulty of getting a foot in the door of the travel industry.

Leaders in tourism say this sector, perhaps more than any other, is a 365-day business. If you’re not prepared to immerse yourself in your enterprise, they say, rather try something different.

According to industry leaders interviewed at Indaba 2010 in Durban, small tourism businesses need to be determined, they need to work hard at letting the big players know what they have to offer, and they need to convince them that their service or product is top quality. If you’re targeting foreign tourists, you need to ensure that your concept of quality matches the ideas of the industry leaders.

Thompsons Africa has a business development division which trains, mentors and supports a selected number of emerging businesses in Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth by marketing them and sending them tourists. To find out more about the Thompsons business development division, phone 031-2753500.

The Tourism Enterprise Partnership has put together Hidden Treasures travel plans in several provinces. These packages offer multilayered tourism experiences, according to TEP’s Hannelie du Toit, and are aimed at the inbound market. Tourists are exposed to crafters, B&B, hotel and guest-house owners, restaurateurs, storytellers, guides and performers.

In partnership with Thebe Tourism, TEP offers partner businesses access to a reservations system – something that most new businesses find prohibitively expensive to implement on their own.

To qualify for inclusion in the Hidden Treasures programme, businesses need to have at least 75% previously disadvantaged ownership, have been in operation for two years and meet certain quality standards.

To find out more, visit