Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

One would expect domestic travel to be thriving, since the rand is under pressure, making overseas travel prohibitively expensive, but it is not living up to its potential, says Thebe Tourism Group CEO Jerry Mabena.

This is largely because of missed opportunities in the Afropolitan market, he says, adding that the industry has not focused enough on “inviting South Africans to SA”.

Mabena has worked in the sector for several years, in both front- and back-end positions. However, he points out that things look very different from the front-end perspective, where he now operates. Destinations and the way they are marketed to consumers have not changed enough, he says, and what is needed is a different mindset. “Traditionally, the model has been about getting the traveller to fit the product. That simply does not work in the emerging market, where the product must fit the market.”

Mabena maintains that the tourism market has to change to accommodate a variety of guests and their various habits, likes and dislikes. He believes there is a need for more group travel packages to destinations around SA. Tourists have a sense of security when travelling in a group – you may be about to try sushi, oysters or bungee jumping for the first time, but you are with a group of people who haven’t done it before either, so there is no feeling of intimidation around trying something new, he explains.

The big take-out:

SA tourism is not doing enough to promote domestic travel, says Thebe Tourism group CEO Jerry Mabena. He says there are many opportunities to promote local travel that are not being exploited to the full.

The travel sector should be creating bespoke packages for a new travel environment, which is not yet happening, Mabena says. He also suggests that the way packages are priced needs to change. “There is now a general costing around bed and breakfast, but what about lunch and dinner, or sightseeing? There is a need for a model for travellers to be able to calculate the exact cost and then save or budget accordingly,” he advises.

“We’re failing to capitalise on certain opportunities to promote domestic travel,” he adds. "In 2016 24m domestic trips were taken within the country’s borders, 72% of these for the purpose of visiting family and friends. If a family was planning on attending a funeral in Hazyview, there is an important opportunity to market a visit to the Kruger National Park during the time they spend in the area,” Mabena says.

Social media holds great potential for marketing domestic travel, particularly within the Afropolitan market, he says. “What better way to promote an experience than when a friend shares it of his own volition?” he points out. However, one of the greatest challenges in this regard is connectivity, particularly in rural areas, which unfortunately limits the opportunities for what he terms informal marketing channels.

Mabena is quick to qualify his comments, saying that the players in the SA tourism industry are having the right conversations. There is also a sound infrastructure, a quality tourism product to market and world-class destinations; not to mention a favourable currency for promoting local travel. However, he believes not enough is being done to promote these destinations, particularly among younger markets, who should be encouraged to travel through Durban before exploring Dubai, for example.

One of SA’s greatest drawcards is its rich history, and Mabena this is the missing piece in the domestic travel offering. “There are huge opportunities for packages that tell the SA story, for township tourism and for educating and entertaining SA consumers about our iconic heritage,” he says. 

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