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‘‘Our mission is to convert an ordinary traveller into becoming our brand ambassador’’

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From hosting major sports events to being an international MICE destination, South Africa has come into the limelight for all the right reasons. Pule I Malefane, consul general of The Republic of South Africa, Mumbai talks about various collaborative opportunities between the two nations in the area of tourism. By Kahini Chakraborty

What is the focus agenda of South Africa tourism in the coming months? How are you working towards increasing tourism numbers to the destination?

Pule I Malefane

The TAFI convention held in February this year in Durban gave us an opportunity to cater to the Indian tourism segment needs extensively. By engaging with the destination’s travel agents, our local agents came to understand the needs of the Indian market as well as briefed the Indian travel agents what South Africa can offer to discerning travellers. I think once the unique aspect of the country’s offering is identified it becomes easier to speak about the destination’s offering and promote the same extensively. The way forward for us is that we feel obligated as far as the tourism board and South African Airways is concerned to identify issues and work towards bettering ourselves to cater to the market. With our country’s target to reach more than one lakh mark of Indian tourists by 2015, this can only be achieved once you work closely with the local tour operators. There is also a line up of activities in the pipeline to engage with the travel agents and media to achieve this target. One of the issues that were brought out during the convention was that of the need for new product offerings and experiences over and above our existing ones. And we will work towards the same and look at improving our offerings. Our mission is to convert the ordinary traveller into becoming our brand ambassador.

Has the response from the Indian market been as per South Africa’s expectations so far? What are the priority segments of focus?

After hosting the FIFA World Cup and IPL, the traveller numbers have risen to 27 per cent in the total tourist figures till now. Out of many events with the IPL event we have been able to expose the country to Indian travellers and maintain ourselves to their expectation. With the MICE market growing exponentially, we are looking at aggressively focusing on it and improving our offerings. One of the things we need to keep in mind is that how to bid to attract more events to South Africa. The business segment could attract family as well wherein one can holiday after work and result in increased length of stay. We have got the best of infrastructure facilities to cater to the MICE industry but unfortunately the potential has not been utilised so far and we are now working towards changing the scenario. It is our responsibility to sell those products to attract more number of events as well as conventions to the country. In the TAFI convention a lot of issues were brought forth which we are working on. The good news has been that today more number of people want to know about South Africa. If the number of tourists visiting the country increases we could look at increasing our flight services to India. Currently we don’t have any plans but if everything falls in place then we could look at the Delhi sector. South African Airways recently underwent refurbishments and is now active on social media networking for product awareness and promotions.

There is a misconception of Durban and Johannesburg being unsafe destinations and delays in visa issuance. How is the tourism board working towards clearing this myth?

Visa is a misconception. If your documents are in place there shouldn’t be any reason for us to delay the process. We don’t have an online process as we have outsourced our services to VFS Global. In my view, it is not necessarily a mental block but also about how agents market their business There is also a reality that in India that if something is sold for free you get suspicious and when you have to pay for it you value the same. For business visa we have engaged ourselves with the chamber of commerce and one of the essential things is that you must work with us to be able to verify the authenticity of the applicant. If you come with a covering letter or a CII letter to us signed by the leadership we have no reason to doubt.

Fortunately for me, as part of the two major events- air cargo event and TAFI, none of the delegates faced any problems or lost their belongings through criminal elements. And for me these are the type of people that we need. As there is one sided information based on what you read, the truth is in contrast to it. Due to one unfortunate incident you cannot base your judgments on the entire country labelling it as an avoidable destination. We hosted the IPL, World Cup, major events that had high security risk elements but they were carried out without any hindrances. Like any other destination, South Africa also has its set of challenges and we are working very hard towards this. No destination is perfect. If we are able to work together we can ensure that through tourism we can create jobs for the unemployed community and curb the crime rate.

With our long term relations with India, it is our responsibility to expose our offerings to the Indian investors and highlight on what Africa can offer. It is long overdue that India be opened up and find its rightful place in South Africa as it is home to over thousands of Indian diaspora. We want to cement and solidify the relationship and open the South African market for business with India for mutual benefit.

With every destination tapping Bollywood tourism segment, what is South Africa tourism’s initiative on the same?

We have realised the potential of the medium now and it is on our priority agenda list. We are not doing well as far as film making is concerned especially in the Bollywood area as the incentives are not that attractive to cover up for their overhead costs of producing a film. This is one of the issues that we are working upon and will soon come up with solutions.

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