Travel Switches Direction

The tourism industry finds itself at a post-pandemic crossroads where it urgently needs to rev up its marketing strategies. Shifting consumer preferences and technological advancements mean traditional approaches no longer suffice.

This is one of the points to emerge at Africa’s Travel Indaba last week in Durban, where deputy tourism minister Amos Mahlalela said he is confident the industry will rebound to pre-pandemic levels while admitting problems including infrastructure deficiency and tourist safety.

Ben Swartz, CEO at CBR Marketing, believes the hospitality industry should reduce its reliance on online travel agency service providers and instead build its own marketing foundations.

“As the pandemic slowly receded, withdrawing its tendrils from within an industry shattered by closures, lockdowns and travel restrictions, it left behind a consumer base hungry for the immediate, the extraordinary and the cheap. [This] opened the door wide for online travel agencies [OTAs] that put everything at the consumers’ fingertips,” says Swartz.

“A customised digital performance marketing strategy … will help re-evaluate and redefine how the company approaches customers. This is key to ensuring the right target market is brought into the business at the right price point.”

Darryl Erasmus, MD of Blaze Integrated Hospitality Marketing, says tourism marketing has moved mainly online. “Larger, more established players have leveraged the accelerated transition to the online marketplace and many are using digital means to grow audiences and improve conversion of looker to booker.

“We have several clients who have agreed to adopt digital marketing practices and have increased revenue significantly. We have some midsized properties converting R300,000 to R400,000 a month on their direct website booking portals, driven by digital referrals.”

Masego Mokgatlha, marketing manager for Thornybush, tells the FM technology has been the saving grace for all hospitality services, transforming businesses and creating opportunities to improve reach.

She says travel is aspirational and the use of global influencers to promote brands is smart when objectives are set and delivery is flawless. “Hospitality businesses need to create their own internal departments because often we find that sourcing marketing services from agencies can be an expensive and inauthentic approach.”

William Stephens, the owner of De Hoop Collection and chair of Cape Country Routes, says it’s critical the travel industry does not ignore the local market. “The strength of international currencies against the rand has forced locals to look at what travel opportunities exist [at home].  Family travel has increased, as well as key areas like trail running, walking trails and mountain bike experiences.”

Stephens says social media optimisation can focus on key markets and dislodge reliance on OTAs by ensuring clients book directly.

Red Carnation Hotels MD Michael Nel says his organisation has switched to marketing strategies that are cheaper and deliver a higher return on investment. “Social media has always been a big part of our marketing strategy but now this is even bigger and more important,” he says.

“The amount of time potential guests spend on social media has increased and we are taking advantage of this through sharing experiences and joining forces with content creators in the travel sector.”

Nel says artificial intelligence (AI) is starting to influence how his group interacts with guests. “Everything is on demand, with responses required within minutes. That is where chatbots have become more popular, able to provide guests with instant information and feedback.”

Isibindi Africa Lodges CEO Brett Gehren agrees that AI is a game-changer. “We are excited by the prospect of AI contributing to our marketing and reservations activities. The ability for this technology to allow our guests to efficiently realise reservations and receive marketing information tailored to their search is huge.”

Renate Oostmeijer, of Tau Game Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve, says: “We find our visitors, especially from abroad, want no delays in the booking process, which also means our online marketing tools have had to be stepped up.

“The South African luxury safari traveller is mostly sophisticated and they want to see what they’re getting on our website, while social media platforms are kept interesting, stimulating, and authentic. Most of our visitors appreciate sustainability and eco-friendly destinations.”

This piece originally appeared in the Financial Mail.