Themba Khumalo. Picture: Supplied
Themba Khumalo. Picture: Supplied

It’s probably the toughest marketing job in SA right now. But it’s up to SA Tourism’s (SAT) new head of marketing, Themba Khumalo, to double the number of inbound tourists to 21-million in the next decade.

There is no doubt he has the skills — if he can survive both the pace and the politics of the body: marketing heads at SAT have a habit of leaving quickly.

Khumalo has worked at the likes of Coca-Cola, MTN and Unilever and knows how to develop and implement big marketing plans.

As SA launches a new Tourism Equity Fund to stimulate transformation in the sector, Khumalo is spearheading an ad campaign, the key aim of which is to "reinvigorate the national psyche of South Africans and to remind each other of who we are".

It is the first in a series of communications in a "global brand reawakening journey" designed to call on South Africans to act collectively by being welcoming hosts and travelling in our own country, and second to open the country to the world.

Khumalo tells the FM it’s no secret that SA is faced with serious socioeconomic issues, ranging from crime and load-shedding to the business rescue of SAA. "These are the structural challenges we face. The other side of the state of brand SA is about the resilience of its people — experienced through our humour, our warmth and our ability to overcome; our justice system and the hope that we still all carry to make sure we resolve our challenges."

So what exactly does he mean by reinvigorating the national psyche? "We are calling on … our people to take action about how we can play a meaningful role in the tourism value chain by continuously showing up, opening up our establishments to local and international visitors, and delivering [a] safe and world-best tourism experience," he says.

One of his short-term problems is the negative potential of the coronavirus. Khumalo says: "It is expected this outbreak will affect tourism numbers not just coming out of China, but also from other parts of the world.

"The safety of tourists and our citizens is also our priority. China remains one of our biggest source markets; however, once the coronavirus outbreak is contained and Chinese tourists are ready to travel again, we will continue with our marketing efforts in the region."

The new campaign, says Khumalo, is the start of what he terms a new brand journey.

"There is still a lot more work to be done in delivering this by showing the impact of the tourism industry on people and their ability to influence successful ecosystems in their own communities. Lastly, there will be a strong call … for the world to come and experience our country."

Success will ultimately be measured by "the impact we make on the economy and the livelihood of all participants in the tourism industry, and that is about the spend we derive from every visitor to SA".

Despite the fires that have devastated Australia, Khumalo expects the country to come out swinging to bolster its battered tourism sector. Australia has offerings similar to those of SA, making it our biggest long-haul competitor.

In terms of the African traveller, SA competes with Dubai due to ease of entry into the country, as well as its offerings. East Africa is also growing fast and is becoming an increasingly attractive tourist destination.

Khumalo believes he has no choice but to overcome issues like power supply and a stagnant economy.

"We cannot stop selling the breathtaking tourism offering we have as a country. Our task is to continue to influence and engage with our government and industry stakeholders about the issues that face consumers when they make holiday choices," he says.

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