How cricket and PR helped to make South Africa a positive tourist destination for India, by South African Tourism’s Sherry Varma

India is one of the largest and fastest-growing travel markets in the world. The tremendous economic growth in India in the last decade, coupled with changing lifestyle patterns, has made India a sought-after outbound travel market. Every tourism board wants to make its presence felt in the Indian market and hence, there is immense competition in the sector today.

Every destination is trying to market itself in India and is constantly working on unique campaigns to attract Indian travelers. Today, with technology taking a superior stand in people’s lives, an era of connectivity and engagement has begun. Travelers are dependent on technology, which has led to burgeoning of online travel agencies, websites, mobile applications and travel aggregators all fighting for the travelers’ attention. The travel and tourism space has evolved rapidly over the years. People are looking for less-explored destinations and with internet penetration on the rise; the industry is set for robust growth.  

When we entered the Indian market in 2005, there were several challenges. We realised that South Africa was perceived as a holiday destination for wildlife lovers. South Africa being a long haul destination was also considered expensive and accessibility was an issue. Taking all these into consideration, we drafted an extensive communications plan to create awareness about the country among Indian travelers, change their perception. We showcased South Africa as a multi-cultural, hospitable and value for-money holiday destination that offers varied experiences. We popularized South Africa as fast-growing economy with superior infrastructure facilities, a country which offers varied experiences to its tourists whether its wildlife, adventure, luxury, art and culture, fashion, sports, food or wine.

In partnership with our agencies we created a strategic communication campaign to generate adequate brand awareness to build and retain the credibility of the brand. We put various media platforms to optimum use to ensure that key messages reach end consumers. Through well-timed media relations in the form of interactions, authored articles, industry stories, roadshows, training modules for travel agents and lifestyle events, our communication partners made South Africa a preferred holiday destination among Indians. The secret to our PR & marketing success lied in the ability to go beyond the conventional, to innovate newer methods of brand recognition and create market leadership for maintaining an ever-changing communications exercise.

Three years ago, we identified India as a core market and capacitated it with a fully-operational South African Tourism office in Mumbai. We are currently training more than 1,000 Indian travel agents and tour operators to enable them to sell South Africa better in the Indian market. During this training programme titled ‘Learn SA’ we toured 27 cities this year and interacted with close to 110 publications in a span of 45 days. We are trying to maximize our reach across markets and garnering some stories with our key messages in each of these markets is important for us as we want more Indians to read about South Africa and visit the destination. Today, we see an exceptional increase in Indian tourist arrivals to South Africa from the time we started. As many as 90,367 Indians visited SA in 2011.  According to our latest arrival figures of November 2012, 97,664 Indians visited South Africa between January to November 2012. This is an increase of 18.1% to the corresponding period last year. 

We undertook an extensive research with Grail and Monitor last year which provided interesting insights to the Indian market and Indian consumers. Basis the research, we developed some interesting campaigns, one of them being the launch of travel guide penned down by cricketer Jonty Rhodes. The diary encapsulates Jonty’s 10 day journey in South Africa and the various activities undertaken by him. This travel guide reached out to the readers of Lonely Planet and was also distributed among our Indian trade partners. This first time ever country guide was a huge success in India. Our recently-launched "The More You Do, The Closer You Get" campaign is also a result of the research undertaken last year. Through this campaign, we are looking to increase the number of visitors through the message that the more experiences you have, the closer you get to the people you are with on your trip to SA. The next campaign will be launched this month and will feature Jonty Rhodes again. We are continuously trying to come up with different initiatives to build and sustain the connect with the Indian audiences.

Another very important initiative that we have undertaken in the Indian market is organizing familiarization trips for the media and trade partners. We believe that just educating the travel agents on South Africa through our training modules is not enough. We want them to see the country, feel the experiences and then sell it to the consumers in India. Keeping this in mind, we regularly organize FAM trips for the Indian trade. Similarly, we organize familiarization trips for the Indian media as well. We have hosted 29 journalists for 8 media familiarization trips from Jan 2012 till date and each one of them have written two or more stories on South Africa. Also, the bilateral relations between India and South Africa have grown so much stronger over the years. We are hoping to strengthen the relationship through numerous campaigns aimed at India in the coming months. Our goal is to break the 100000 arrivals mark by 2014 and we are confident we will achieve this.

We have won quite a few awards and accolades as well in the Indian market. South Africa was awarded the Best International Wildlife destination by Lonely Planet and Today’s Traveller Best Publicity and Promotions Award last year. Recently South Africa was awarded the Best International Lifestyle Destination of the Year at NDTV Good Times Lifestyle Awards 2013. Winning such recognitions is very encouraging for us as it feels good to know that our hard work and efforts are getting noticed and appreciated. We have invested and put in lot of efforts to enhance our communication, promotion and publicity of South Africa as a complete family holiday destination and the awards bestowed on us reiterate the same.

The possibilities of what PR and marketing can achieve together are endless. Our communications campaign is a perfect example in point. Look at what it has done for us. We have stimulated travelers’ desire to visit South Africa; changed negative perceptions about our country; generated awareness; created engagements with our customers and built advocates for the nation.

Sherry Varma, Marketing and Communications Manager, South African Tourism