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South African Tourism is on the road to making tourism the leading economic sector in South Africa, writes Lavhelesani Mainganye

South African Tourism is the tourism marketing arm of the South African government. Simply put, its role is to promote the country domestically and internationally, whether for leisure, business, or events tourism. South African Tourism has made great strides in introducing and marketing South Africa not only to local people but also, since the dawn of our democracy in 1994, to the world.

SA Tourism has grown from a few offices around the world to become a global tourism organisation on a mission to market and share, through experiences, all that is unique, warm, and beautiful about South Africa. To understand more about this sector, we chatted with Nomasonto Ndlovu, South African Tourism’s (SA Tourism) Chief Operations Officer, a position she has held since July 2022.

Prior to this role, she was employed by Transnet in the capacity of Executive Manager: Tourism, Heritage, and Hospitality, where she was responsible for heading up the newly established Tourism, Heritage, and Hospitality business unit. Prior to joining Transnet, Nomasonto was at the helm of the Limpopo Tourism Agency in the position of Chief Executive Officer. She holds a Bachelor of Social Sciences Degree from the University of KwaZulu Natal.

She has held various other leadership positions in the tourism sector, including her role as Global Manager: Business Tourism when she was previously at SA Tourism between 2008 and 2012, before joining the City of Tshwane as Strategic Executive Director of Communications, Marketing and Events.

She is a seasoned marketing and tourism expert with diverse experience gained from both private and public sector organisations, including Unilever, Standard Bank, and KwaZulu-Natal Tourism Authority. She has gained extensive experience in Marketing Operations, Brand Management, Communications, Stakeholder Management, and Media Relations. A well-respected tourism professional and opinion leader in the tourism industry, Nomasonto also mentors young tourism professionals.

On her journey into the tourism sector…

I consider myself an accidental tourism marketing professional, as I landed in tourism by pure chance whilst I was at Unilever in 2005. I am a trained classical marketer, trained at Unilever South Africa for 10 years. I was seconded to Tourism KZN by Unilever to assist their marketing efforts, and I have never looked back since.

I think once I encountered the impact and the transformational potential of tourism in the lives of South Africans, there was no turning back. Incidentally, my mother worked at Southern Sun for over 20 years from 1971 (the year I was born), so I suppose tourism was meant to be my destination.

On her role at SA Tourism…

As the team at South African Tourism, we believe we have the best job in the world; we get to wake up daily and showcase to the world everything that this wondrous country of ours has to offer. My role is to ensure that our global marketing operations are efficient and enable us to market South Africa optimally in our 24 priority source markets and the rest of the world. My role is to lead the organisation’s strategy execution, which ensures that people choose South Africa as their preferred long-haul destination. In my role, I also ensure that we build a strong and high-performing team, as well as make sure that we are performing optimally and that the organisation’s resources and utilised in a prudent manner. Part of my portfolio is to also oversee domestic tourism, making sure that we get South Africans to travel and explore all that South Africa has to offer.

On SA Tourism’s plans…

In the short-to-medium term, my efforts are focused on ensuring that SA Tourism plays its part in driving an inclusive recovery of the tourism sector; making sure that tourism businesses within our country are recovering and are able to provide quality experiences for tourists from all over the world. This goes hand in hand with collaborating with key tourism stakeholders and partners, both local and global, for the benefit of the sector. In the long term, the plan is to play a key role in ensuring that the tourism sector achieves its ambitions of achieving 21 million tourists by 2030.

On the highs and lows of the sector…

It is no secret that COVID-19 brought the tourism sector to its knees. Tourism is about moving people around, so when the pandemic happened, people could not move around, which meant that tourism could not happen for that period. This, I would say, has been one of the sector’s most devastating periods; its lowest low. The sector has spent the best part of the last two-and-a-half years rebuilding and reimagining itself. Although the pandemic was catastrophic, it provided us an opportunity to relook at the sector and make some improvements that we otherwise would not have been able to make, but also to fast-track the digital transformation in the sector.

It is incredible to note that there are some new products that have emerged during and post the pandemic, which speaks to the resilience of the sector and its ability to reinvent itself. We have seen some impressive performance in the sector in 2022 following the lifting of all COVID-19 restrictions and regulations, which makes me believe the sector is headed to some incredible recovery in the next few months.

My efforts coming into this role are really geared toward the sector’s recovery. Destination South Africa must reclaim its glory as the number one tourist destination in Africa. One of the critical jobs to be done to ramp up our recovery is to partner with industry partners to manage the barriers to travel when travellers are considering South Africa. This is why we have launched a Global Advocacy Programme to ensure concerted efforts around this.

In 2022, we saw incremental growth in our tourism sector. From January to December 2022, South Africa received 5.7 million international visitors. This is an increase of 152.6% in comparison with the same period in 2021. Domestically, the sector is soaring, with more South Africans really going out there to enjoy their country. During the period of January to November 2022, 29.8 million overnight domestic trips were taken. This is an increase of 139.4% when compared to the same period in 2021. This is really a testament to the work that the sector, collectively, has done to fast-track the recovery. The sector is in a good place and can only get better from here.

On empowerment within the sector…

The tourism industry has many programmes which are aimed at facilitating empowerment and transformation of the sector. For example, the Department of Tourism has the Market Access Support Programme (MASP) that aims to assist small inbound tourism enterprises to access and engage with tourism buyers. South African Tourism also has market access programmes for SMMEs in the tourism sector, to ensure that they are exposed both locally and globally.

Every year, South African Tourism invites South African tourism SMME businesses to participate in international trade exhibitions where South African Tourism participates. This initiative gives the opportunity to the industry partners to become stand sharers at international trade shows and further gives business owners the opportunity to engage directly with potential visitors on an international platform that they otherwise would never have had access to.

Lavhelesani Mainganye is a PRISA accredited communication practitioner with considerable experience in the field.

By Editor