South Africa’s breathtaking scenery and recent political miracle should
have set the scene for a tourism boom, yet the industry’s development is
threatened. Harriet Marsh reports
In South Africa, where massive political change sits alongside
breathtaking scenery, tourism is the fastest growing industry. With an
attractive rate of exchange and a surge of interest since the end of
apartheid, the stage should be set for the industry to take off. But,
thanks to poor marketing, bureaucratic confusion and lack of money, the
industry’s development is under threat.
Tourism started to pick up in 1991, when stability seemed finally to be
in sight. With the elections in 1994 and the end of apartheid, the
ethical barrier, which had prevented many tourists from visiting South
‘In 1994, the floodgates of tourism opened, mostly due to our unpaid
marketer by the name of Nelson Mandela,’ says Walter Msimang, executive
director of SATOUR, the South African tourist board.
At present, tourism contributes 5% of South Africa’s GDP, against a
world average of 10%. The industry employs around half a million people
and in 1995 drew 4.5 million tourists, many from other parts of Africa,
keen to experience destination South Africa (SATOUR anticipated this
will swell to eight million by the year 2000).
These people brought with them pounds 1.89bn (R13bn), making tourism the
fourth largest foreign exchange-earning industry, after manufactured
goods, gold exports and mining.
But Msimang believes that the tourism infrastructure of the country can
support double the number of visitors: ‘For a country which has the kind
of attractions South Africa has, this is a serious underemployment of
Yet the marketing of South Africa’s fastest growing industry remains
limited, especially at the national level. In a report published in
March, SATOUR identified lack of marketing resources as one of the key
inhibitors of the future growth of tourism.
This in a country where concerns over crime (2% of foreign visitors were
affected by crime in 1995), poor service and a tendency to overprice
present future problems for the industry.
In the post-apartheid government, tourism has not been allocated a
dedicated minister, sharing a portfolio with arts and culture. This is
seen as representative of the lack of understanding at government level
of the importance of tourism.
In 1996, the government’s contribution to SATOUR fell from pounds 8.1m
(R56m) in 1995 to pounds 6.9m (R48m). This shortfall has been made worse
with the severe depreciation of the rand, which has in recent months
lost around 20% of its value against the major currencies.
‘Funding is a serious problem for SATOUR,’ says Msimang. ‘There is no
clear understanding on the part of the policymakers of the added value
Research in January 1996 by SATOUR revealed that 42% of visitors coming
to South Africa do so as a result of promotional messages.
Yet the tourist association has no budget for above-the-line
advertising. Through its 15 international offices it instead
concentrates on trade promotions and developing media contacts and sees
the Internet as being the key medium for the future.
With no lead from the top, the task of marketing the South Africa brand
has been taken up by the airlines and tour operators.
In 1992, 17 airlines flew in to South Africa. Since apartheid ended, the
number has increased dramatically to 77 and now includes Virgin, which
is scheduled to launch its London to Johannesburg route on October 2.
Spear of the nation
With an international marketing budget of pounds 10m (R70m), South
African Airways, the state-owned airline, is spearheading the push to
promote South Africa.
‘South African Airways remains the top promoter of the destination,’
says Steve Dunne, UK PR manager for the airline. ‘And we will continue
to promote the destination, especially to the UK market which is still
the airline’s most important revenue generator.’
SAA’s marketing strategy to the UK includes targeting members of
Voyager, its frequent flyer programme, as well as corporate and tactical
advertising in the quality press through UK agency Leo Burnett.
However, the most mileage, in marketing terms, has come from the
airline’s allegiance with the symbols of the new South Africa.
In a celebration of Nelson Mandela’s international popularity, the
airline covered one of its planes in images, in the new national
colours, of President Mandela in his characteristic two-armed salute.
The plane has also been renamed Ndizani, the Zulu for to soar or to fly,
and has generated substantial press coverage for an airline whose
colours and national emblem once seemed to embody white South Africa.
With the return of South Africa to the international sporting arena, the
airline is also gaining publicity from its sponsorship of the South
African Olympic team, which flew to the games in the specially painted
747. Olympic involvement will play a key role in SAA’s and South
Africa’s marketing strategy. Cape Town is bidding for the 2004 Olympics
and SAA says that it has big plans to incorporate this into its
After the Atlanta games, the plane will keep its bright livery, with the
addition of the Cape Town 2004 bid logo. This will be carried until the
decision is made in September 1997.
Meanwhile, SAA is busy ridding itself of the last vestiges of its
nationalist heritage. In October, the airline unveils its new logo,
featuring new corporate colours and a new design, although the
traditional springbok image is felt, through the success of the national
rugby team, to be sufficiently integrated to remain.
New Virgin territory
Also pushing ‘destination South Africa’ is Virgin, which in July
launched a TV and poster campaign in the UK to support its launch of
London-Johannesburg in October. Although SAA remains concerned that
Branson’s arrival will launch a price war, the airline welcomes the
additional marketing of the route.
‘SAA will welcome Virgin joining because we believe that it will do a
lot to promote the destination,’ says Dunne.
In the heady days after the 1994 election, South Africa went from the
pariah of any politically, or socially, aware tourist to a flavour-of-
‘In August 1994, it was as if the whole world rushed over a start line
to South Africa,’ says Dunne. ‘The demand increased dramatically,
aeroplanes were full, and we increased the number of flights from London
to South Africa from seven to 12 per week.’
The growth of the tourist industry has been dominated by two types of
tourist. In January 1995, 15% of overseas visitors’ motivation to come
to South Africa came from a desire to see the country after the
political change. In the black townships, where unemployment remains a
major problem, a host of companies offering guided tours has sprung up.
Soweto, probably the best known of the townships, has over 14 different
operators now competing for the market.
Yet despite the rise in what has become known as ‘ethical tourism’, the
main attraction for the majority of visitors to South Africa continues
to be its scenic beauty and the wildlife.
Travellers of conscience
The year of 1996 has been declared the International Year of Eco-
tourism. ‘Tourism with conscience’, as it is often defined, is thriving
in South Africa. In the main, the growing eco-tourism industry is
flourishing through small operators, which have traditionally relied on
the marketing capital of SATOUR in order to promote themselves overseas.
Conservation Corporation, which offers luxury game reserves to an up-
market clientele, is one such company. With ten lodges through Africa
and seven in South Africa, the company has a marketing budget of only
around pounds 7246 (R50,000).
This only allows for local advertising to the trade, the production of
brochures and direct mailing to a database which only numbers around
‘In the past, a lot of our success stemmed from SATOUR,’ says Natalie
Abratt, the PR manager. ‘They organised press trips and the overseas
offices gave us a lot of exposure, but since the budget cuts this has
‘South Africa is not going to remain flavour of the month for ever.
Interest is dropping off already and the industry needs to do something
to sustain it,’ she believes.
Although South Africa’s internal private-sector investment accounts for
much of the growth in tourism, the indications are that international
conglomerates are beginning to see the investment opportunities.
At present, this is most apparent in the hotel sector. The first
international hotel chain to move to post-apartheid South Africa was
Hyatt, which opened the Park Hyatt in Johannesburg in December 1995.
Hilton, Sheraton and Marriott are also reportedly making inroads into
Although business travellers remain Hyatt’s main target market, with the
majority coming from the UK, the hotel also attracts up-market US tour
As part of an international chain, Hyatt has a budget of around pounds
123,000 (R850,000). The hotel has steered clear of ‘brand spray’
advertising, instead concentrating on building its database and
marketing through SAA’s loyalty programme, Voyager.
However, SATOUR budget cuts and the limited marketing of destination
South Africa remain a worry.
‘In general, the hotel groups have not had the budgets,’ says Joy
Franke, marketing director of the Park Hyatt, Johannesburg. ‘South
Africa needs to link up with other southern African countries to sell
itself as destination Southern Africa.
‘In this way the companies involved could create packages for visitors.
It would also help a lot if we could drop the rigid exchange controls
with our neighbouring countries.’
In the short term, however, the industry is awaiting the formal changes
to the Tourism Act proposed in the recently accepted tourism white
paper. The plans include repositioning SATOUR, possibly with the new
name Tourism South Africa, as a market-related operator outside the
clutches of government.
Msimang, the new director, feels the best prospect for the future lies
in developing a national tourism association along the lines of the
Canadian Tourist Board. ‘This would facilitate funding by the private
sector,’ he says. ‘The model ties the private sector into the planning
of the organisation, suggesting we could access more private-sector