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At no point do we want to make South Africa cheap, but we want to make it affordable, reachable, accesssible and memorable: Neliswa Nkani

Neliswa Nkani, the newly appointed hub head for Middle East, India and Southeast Asia is raring to grow the India market and take up the challenges that await her there

What is your perception of the India market?

It is an honour to go to India. It is homely and spiritually rewarding to be posted to India. My first observation about the India market is the love the Indian traveller has for South Africa. Secondly, I have observed that we are shortchanging the Indian traveller because we are showing them possibly three things to do. I understand that there is a very strong middle class in India that is struggling to get access to the market because it comes across as if it is a very high end destination. Middle class everywhere like to spend but just enough that they can live. Economies have changed in the world therefore people strive to save. So it is shifting the paradigm that we are an expensive destination. At no point do we want to make South Africa cheap, but we want to make it affordable, reachable, accesssible and memorable.

What is your strategy to grow this market?

Most important thing for me is talking to the front end business partners which are tour operators like OTOAI. How do we shift the perception of South Africa. How do we move from the itinerary of Cape Town, Kruger and Johannesburg? Even the Garden Route we are not optimising. I want a pow wow with the top decision makers in the India travel trade where I can present South Africa through my eyes and I want to map it out through my eyes for the benefit of the Indian traveller, for the benefit of my tour operator partners to show them that, ‘Wow!There is more to South Africa than these cities!’

Secondly, you cannot sell a destination through your own eyes. I want to get the Indian media, the writers, the production houses, the television channels to show my country through their eyes. Let’s prioritise the Indian traveller, let’s enhance the value of the Indian traveller. So we are going to up our game in terms of Indian media. Lastly, what’s important to me is to capicitate my team to think outside the box. Tourism has moved. It is no longer about tour operators, it is about authentic experiences; the value proposition is important.

What new destinations do you plan to promote in India?

Cape Town is not fully explored. No one has been to the west coast. Most of the tour operators I met at OTOAI do not even know about the Dinokeng Game Reserve near Pretoria, the capital city. We need to map out and show India our country. I think we have left it too much to the DMCs. Currently, we have only shown the tour operator what is possible; we haven’t shown him what is profitable. Therefore what is important is to show different opportunities, different experiences like the Cullinan Diamond Mines Tour – only tour of a working mine in the world and Cradle of Humankind. So it is shifting the paradigm of the writer and the tour operator. The tour operator needs to say to the DMCs, this is what I want, find it and get it for me, it should not be the other way round. We are going to create a little bit of competition, we are going to open up our country. And we are going to open up the offering that we have in terms of the product in its entirety.

What about the MICE segment?

I want to do some pioneering work here. I have already asked my office to arrange a breakfast meeting with the MICE players together with leading corporates in India. This is a vast segment because it brings in the numbers. India has huge banking, IT, medical and pharma industries. I also want to talk to academia in India. Academic tourism is something we haven’t tapped as yet. South Africa and India have a bilateral agreement and we just need to unplug it.

Film tourism?

I am looking for those production houses who are prepared to give us a chance. And it is also about sports tourism as well. I am looking for those production houses to say to me, we are looking for film locations. How do we get incentives to come to South Africa to film? It’s not going to be for free but I am a negotiator and I will negotiate the best for both parties. We are also going to speak to the different provincial governments to tap this potential. I have met with the Department of Trade and Industry and they are prepared to come on board with me to say we want to pursue and bring some Indian production houses and film stars to South Africa. As for weddings, the Indian traveller is family oriented and that is good for us. I spoke to my marketing team for sponsoring an Indian wedding. Young couples are marriage aspirational. Before the wedding, there are the pre-wedding functions which is something we are going to tap into. But it is important to note here that we are not going to do this alone. We are going to source partners and we are going to continue to partner with people who are prepared to grow our destination because by growing our destination, we are growing people’s businesses, and this creates jobs not only in South Africa but also in India.