In the year we celebrated the colour, diversity and unexplored mysteries out of Africa, we were honoured to once again work alongside a brand that pursues this mission out daily: our headline partner, South African Tourism. We caught up with the newly appointed South African Tourism CEO, Sisa Ntshona, to find out more about his vision for the future of African travel – including his plans to better expose South Africa’s hidden gems.

Sisa Ntshona, South African Tourism CEO

Can you tell us more about your background and share with us some personal highlights from your first few months in office at South African Tourism?

I’m an accountant by training and spent many years working in banking – initially in investment banking, before finding my joy heading up the SME division of Absa/Barclays Africa. I’d like to think I bring commercial astuteness to the organisation, gearing the sector to be a meaningful contributor the country’s economy.

The highlights of my tenure at South African Tourism so far are too numerous to mention, but I have to single out the wonderful people who I have met and work with in our vibrant tourism industry – from government to the private sector, to civil society and the media. I’ve been struck by their shared commitment to making our sector grow, diversify and flourish, and to becoming a catalyst for inclusive economic growth and job creation. I’ve had productive meetings with key players in the African and international tourism industry, and working together is something I’m keen to pursue further.

I attended ITB Berlin in March and just before that had the pleasure of experiencing South African Tourism’s annual Meetings Africa trade show, where we drove the conversation of Advancing Africa Together Responsibly, with a strong focus on encouraging sustainable and community-friendly business events.

We Are Africa celebrates the vibrant diversity, unexplored mystery and heart-warming magic of our captivating continent, in order to show the world what makes Africa a top travel destination. What unique or unexplored stories of South Africa do you want to share with the world?

Shova Lifestyle Origin, Soweto

As you know, there is something for everyone in South Africa – whether you love safaris, adventure, cities, beaches, mountains, history, culture or all of the above. We are fortunate to have a multitude of incredible experiences in close proximity to one other.

But one of my missions is to bring more of our hidden gems, or lesser-known tourism treasures, to the attention of both domestic and international travellers. I’m thinking about the B&B in Soweto that offers home-cooked kasi cuisine and an authentic African storytelling experience; or the multicultural art route in Limpopo that features drumming, marimbas, dancing and a traditional homestay: experiences that touch your heart and move your soul, offering authenticity and immersion.

The big question is: How do we bring our rural and township tourism jewels, along with other tucked-away attractions, to the attention of the adventurous, curious traveller, thereby help these enterprises become sustainable and profitable? One way we are doing our small part is by hosting and showcasing almost 100 of these SMMEs to buyers at our leisure travel show, Africa’s Travel INDABA, in May.

Millennials are increasingly seeking out authentic, homegrown experiences with a local flavour, as well as human connections that go beyond the pretty pictures of scenery to burrow right down into the heart of a nation and its people. It’s up to us to cater to that growing need.

What innovative projects in South African Tourism are you most excited about right now?

We have a number of projects lined up for 2017, which we will be launching soon: The first is Africa’s Travel INDABA (ATI), coming up this week at the Durban ICC. Our annual travel and tourism trade show has a new positioning, a new image and a reaffirmed commitment to growing the tourism industry on the African continent. ATI is moving towards becoming a more collaborative, effective and streamlined show focused on doing business and getting the world excited about African travel possibilities and opportunities.

Secondly, we’ll soon be launching a campaign designed to inspire ordinary South Africans (including those not in the tourism industry) to see the value of tourism to the broader economy, to understand how it impacts on everyone’s lives, and to acknowledge that we all have a role to play in being friendly, welcoming tourism ambassadors.

Finally, we will also celebrate Tourism Month in September and motivate South Africans to become tourists in their own amazing country.

We’ve been listening in on some of your engagements with the trade and phrases like ‘collaboration’ and ‘inclusive growth’ feature prominently. How do you feel the high-end travel sector, in particular, could embrace these concepts more?

Short Left Tour – encouraging local travel

Those are, indeed, my two mantras! The crux of our transformation agenda at South African Tourism rests on collaboration and regular interactions with all players in the sector to further its aims and solve its problems. It has to be remembered, though, that we play an enabling and facilitating role in transformation (including through the goods and services we procure), not necessarily a funding role (as we are by definition, a destination-marketing agency). So we can’t fund the start-ups, but we can give them a helping hand along the road.

By striving for inclusive tourism growth, we acknowledge that it’s meaningless to grow our tourism sector if it does not embrace black people, who were traditionally excluded or given limited access for a number of reasons. It’s essential to get more people of colour to actively participate in the tourism sector, both through their businesses (especially SMMEs) and by travelling around the country.

But the larger, established players in our tourism economy can play more of a developmental and capacity-building role in helping us achieve our envisaged tourism growth. They can provide invaluable assistance in helping us fulfil the vision of the National Development Plan: to eliminate poverty and inequality by 2030. We have good relationships with some hotel groups, who we want to lobby to use their buying power and economies of scale to buy linen, cutlery and so on for nearby B&Bs, thus passing on their bulk discounts. In fact, some already refer their overflow bookings to nearby establishments that offer a similar quality and service experience to their guests. These hotel chains can also help the ‘little guys’ with chef and hospitality training.

But it’s not only those directly involved in the tourism ecosystem that can assist: banks can provide SnapScan facilities to small establishments that can’t afford credit card facilities; cellphone companies can offer special data deals to groups of SMMEs; and so on. We need to get innovative. We’re all in it together and it’s in everyone’s interests that viable small tourism businesses survive and prosper – it adds to the diversity of our tourism offering.

One of our priorities is supporting, guiding and assisting new black entrants to become destination-marketing companies in their own right. By working together, we believe we can create an enabling environment in which a diverse, vibrant and multi-faceted tourism economy can flourish.

South African Tourism will be hosting their annual Africa’s Travel INDABA (ATI) in Durban between 16 – 18 May 2017. If you’re heading that way, make sure to look out for the launch of their exciting new campaign.

John Segar

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