The tourism industry is a dynamic, organic sector, pulsing with life and creativity. It’s an industry made up of highly diverse business offerings, but at its heart lies one common driving thread: Visitor Experience. This term is also the result of a journey, originating in the distant past as customer satisfaction, then, as companies grew more sophisticated in how they monitored their customers’ reactions to products and services, the focus became more on experience, providing insights to every single transaction and interaction those visitors have on their own customer journey.
Change is a certainty for anyone in business, driven by innovation, demand, customer expectation and the need to reinvent what’s on offer in order to stay relevant in a competitive environment. The more efficient and slick a business is, the more customers come to expect from it, so it’s a constantly rolling concept that has to be attended to. This nurturing goes a long way to ensuring the success of a company. There are many instances where this is evident in today’s tourism environment – SA’s tourism operators are setting the bar high, with a view to providing unique, world-class Visitor Experiences.
The V&A Waterfront is a prime example of a holistic approach to Visitor Experience that has consistently developed over the years of its existence. With great care taken to ensure that independent businesses operating within the attraction’s precincts work in harmony, the developers and managers have created a fantastic expression of the celebration of Cape Town lifestyle in one place. The Grain Silo development and Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa are evidence of this – that even one of the world’s most-visited attractions must keep on adding more than a fresh coat of paint in order to remain relevant. Indeed, the Zeitz MOCAA opening is bound to be a highlight on the tourism calendar later on in 2017.
The role of SMMEs in tourism
It would be a mistake to focus on the magnitude of that development; SMMEs are also chasing the vision of building enduring Visitor Experiences. In the past decade, township tourism has grown from being simple, passive walking tours to becoming immersive experiences that involve whole neighbourhoods. As a term, “township tourism” is becoming obsolete; these neighbourhoods are part of our culture and heritage, and the tourism businesses operating there have seen that slick offerings lead to increased business opportunities.
The more they grow in scale, the more they can provide for visitors to rival tourism experiences across cities. Smaller businesses in these communities are experts at collaborating with other businesses to offer more; they understand that partnerships lead to added value for visitors and increased profitability.
This trend is prevalent in our major cities, and it’s certain to grow. Locals are discovering that pride in one’s community is part of what stimulates growth. The locals themselves are part of what makes these experiences so unique, with friendly professionals playing the roles of guides and storytellers.
In Khayelitsha, tourism is fast becoming a sought-after means of generating an income. This is leading to entrepreneurs developing some remarkable businesses. From the Khayelitsha Canoe Club to the Department of Coffee that has brought coffee culture to the area, or the remarkable Juma Art Tours run by Juma Mkwela, these have all developed from inspiration to become thriving businesses. “The reason why I do township art tours is that I found it as an opportunity to go into townships and not to just drive through there with tourists and just take pictures. By painting art in the townships, it makes the community look beautiful. I have got a collaborative of artists, and we paint to inspire, we paint to educate and we paint to raise awareness of different aspects.” – Juma Mkwela, owner, Juma Art Tours.
Want to get in on the tourism action?
There’s a trend in tourism-dense destinations for non-tourism related businesses to see the value in this lucrative market; restaurants, arts and crafts companies, jewellers, food companies, craft beer and spirit manufacturers are joining destination marketing organisations as members to tap more into what can become their business mainstay. As tourism in South Africa is increasingly becoming a year-round activity, the benefits of exposing a non-tourism business to this market increase the likelihood of sustained profitability. Tourism businesses benefit by creating tours that include these businesses as this creates a more rounded Visitor Experience, so tourism is not merely sightseeing, it’s engaging with locals and enjoying the sounds, tastes and visual treats of the places visited.
The question remains, for all tourism operators: how can we please visitors?
In 2017, data-driven offerings are going to improve on how bigger companies provide products and services. For hotel chains and airlines, this extends throughout their businesses, from front-of-house to their contact centres. The data generated by interactions with visitors provides rich customer and business intelligence that, if used correctly, can enable companies to provide efficient offerings according to customer preferences. This can mean improved booking systems, better provision of information and optimised marketing tools.
Wynand Smit, CEO at INOVO, a company that provides business solutions to contact centres concurs: “The Visitor Experience begins at the first point of contact the visitor makes with a tourism operator - frequently this is via the contact centre. It’s essential that industry players such as hotel groups and airlines recognise that the contact centre is as much an influence on the Visitor Experience as the experiences in the hotel or on the plane as it sets the level of expectation for the entire experience. In effect, the customer is already well into their customer journey long before they arrive for the tour or flight or check-in at their place of accommodation. Progressive companies are ensuring that service excellence has continuity throughout; this is what leads to higher levels of customer satisfaction, long-term loyalty and, of course, profitability.” The gaps for improved tourism offerings are there, opportunities for enterprising individuals to develop solutions that reach wider and stretch further than ever before, exposing more of this country to international and local visitors.
Some examples of ways local tourism companies are optimising Visitor Experience:
Responsible Tourism, Sustainable Tourism and Universal Access
“Better places for people to live in, better places to visit”: describes the Responsible Tourism initiative. Beautiful destinations across the globe have realised that the attractions that draw visitors must be developed and curated with care, and that the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of a destination is closely-linked to its success and viability. For South African businesses, this extends from preserving the fragile marine environment to encouraging water and energy-saving initiatives. Cape Town was awarded the title of fifth-most responsible destination in the world at the World Responsible Tourism Awards in 2014 and, also in 2014, the city was named as one of the 10 best destinations for eco-travel by responsibletravel.com.
Responsible tourism includes the built environment and all of the considerations that go into the design of buildings as well as recycling and upcycling efforts. As an organisation, we have shifted to digital to move away from printing and storing documents on paper. Universal Access in Tourism focusses on ensuring that people with disabilities or other challenges are able to access tourism facilities, an important facet to Responsible Tourism. This also applies to those who lack the financial resources to enjoy tourism activities.
Cape Town’s Big Six attractions, Robben Island, the Table Mountain Cableway, Kirstenbosch, Groot Constantia, the V&A Waterfront precincts and Cape Point are committed to driving responsible tourism initiatives. In 2014, The V&A won the WTM World Responsible Tourism Gold award as Best Destination for Responsible Tourism, and Hotel Verde, known as the greenest hotel in Africa, scooped their own World Responsible Tourism Award for Best City Hotel in the world.
The same is true of tourism businesses across the country, with those who have wild animal encounters reviewing how these are conducted and portrayed in marketing literature. The Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) recently announced that a marketing campaign at OR Tambo depicting a family playing with lion cubs would be removed, as this messaging was in conflict with a move towards Sustainable Tourism. In this instance, the strategy is not to deprive visitors of experiences, but to ensure that with effective management, our valuable natural heritage will be available as an attraction for decades to come. Without intervention, this precious resource could be at risk.
Collaboration across the sector
Individual businesses have their own imperative to provide excellent Visitor Experiences, but the industry has many other mechanisms that contribute towards this. Multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the Cape Town Visitor Safety Forum work at realising a collective goal. Organisations and representatives from tourism businesses including Cape Town Tourism, South African Police Service (SAPS), the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), Central City Improvement District (CCID), the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), South African National Parks (SANParks), hotels in the city and others meet to ensure that when visitors come, the increased traffic won’t compromise their safety or that of locals.
This includes increased safety measures for the holiday season, including increased patrols, more visible security and a wealth of information available at central points and on websites.
A “prevention is better than a cure” approach such as this facilitates tourism operators in being able to provide a more seamless Visitor Experience.
Besides this practical initiative, meetings of membership-based organisations, industry workshops, trade conference events and more all bring together tourism professionals to discuss how to take the industry forwards. A tourism business can operate in isolation, but collectively businesses can penetrate the market far better. Through networking, it is possible to uncover synergies that could extend the marketing reach, with mutual benefits to those concerned.
These meetings are more than just social events, they are also vehicles to discuss challenges faced by industry such as visa and birth certificate travel regulations, drought conditions, water restrictions and other natural disasters, and any other problems or potential problems the industry is facing or may face in the future. This kind of solutions-based thinking is what helps individual businesses with their own scenario planning and long-term strategy, both of which provide the background to better experiences for visitors. If a challenge arises, it is far better to let visitors know that there’s a plan in place than to become unresponsive.
Leveraging what exists
There’s potential in almost every environment to create something of interest. If there are events such as sports tours or business conferences, tour operators can build experiences around those. Take a place like Mitchell’s Plain, for example, which isn’t a traditional centre for tourism, but with a little creativity, more could be done to encourage local tourism. A tour could be devised that connects local places of interest, say the homes of well-known residents, with other spots, maybe a few local artists and musicians and the places they exhibit or perform. Is there an opportunity to develop markets where locals can sell their goods and others can perform or showcase their talents? This is the kind of thinking that can result in community mobilization and a mini-tourism market developing. There are many tourism professionals living in places around the city that don’t get visitors, but they can provide skills development training to their communities and mentorship.
In conclusion, what keeps SA tourism operators pushing ahead is this remarkable land we share, and the desire to showcase this to the world. We want to offer the best of the best, and to keep on challenging ourselves to do better.
Enver Duminy is CEO of Cape Town Tourism