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March 11, 2009

Something to be excited about amid the travel industry gloom

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The speaking venue at the South African Embassy in Berlin

On Tuesday night there was a function at the South African embassy in Berlin for the South African ITB family – government officials, exhibitors, tourism authorities, political leaders and others who are helping to represent and promote SA. This was a pre-ITB get-together that was used effectively to remind us that, amid the gloom and doom about dropping arrivals and grim economic news around the world, South Africa had real reasons to be excited about travel and tourism in the country.

With the Confederations Cup in 2009 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup fast approaching, we have a story and we have a compelling reason to engage with the trade, and as such we will probably have a leg up on the competition when it comes to riding out this slump in travel trends. 

We’re going to need it, as we learnt when we got a briefing on what’s happening on the ground in Germany – one of our core markets.

The competition is turning up the heat. Other countries are putting big bucks into luring Germans to their shores rather than to South Africa. Portugal for the first time is doing a massive million-Euro campaign. Even the tiny Dominican Republic is ploughing a million Euros into the German market. I can tell you, this city is plastered with destination marketing advertisements – Turkey, Syria, Thailand, Spain – the list goes on. Buses are decked out, billboards shout, and the airports are smothered in it.

And political affairs are affecting tourism demand: Germans stayed away from the USA during the Bush years as relations between the two countries soured and global sentiment viewed America harshly. Now, there’s an “Obama effect” in tourism – Germans love him and are ready to love America again, and they are choosing the USA as a long-haul holiday destination once more in 2009.

We were briefed by SA Tourism’s German market fundi, country manager .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), who also explained that the German media were not even entertaining positive stories about travel in South Africa right now. Why? Because on page one and two of their newspapers are negative stories about our politics, our government, corruption trials, events in Zimbabwe and so on. Upbeat news in this climate looks and feels too much like spin to them, and they’re not buying it.

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Mariëtte Du Toit-Helmbold spending some quality time with Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk

We also got a recap of a marketing campaign SA Tourism did in the German market, which was interesting to see but it wasn’t very relevant to Cape Town as it was focused on the adventure travel end of the safari market and featured KwaZulu-Natal. I’d have preferred they share some insight into what’s coming this year to give the ITB teams more ammunition for the conference, but it helped to see the kind of work they’ve been doing.

For all the schmoozing that can dominate these kinds of events, I thought this one was used in a practical and informative way. The environment is a lot tougher out there than it has been in over a decade, and the SA team has geared up for the battle.

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