Welcome workshops aim to inspire, educate, engage and inform tourism role-players
It doesn’t end with the big smile and the firm handshake, South African Tourism’s product support, Aneshree Rambally, told tourism stakeholders in Durban this week. She said tourists are looking for the whole experience: a warm welcome supported by insightful recommendations and efficient, friendly service.
It’s these vital ingredients that collectively drive South African Tourism’s Welcome initiative, and the reason why Rambally was hosting a group of Tsogo Sun group representatives at the Suncoast Towers in Durban on Tuesday 4 November 2014.
Welcome workshops are being held countrywide in conjunction with provincial tourism bodies to initiate and sustain engagement in the tourism sector. They comprise high-level overviews of tourism markets and are aimed at tourism trade stakeholders at all industry levels, from general managers of large hotels to cleaners at backpackers.
The Welcome brief is to inspire, educate, engage and inform tourism role-players. South African Tourism does this by sharing practical information relating to market insights, customer profiles, spending patterns, visitor numbers and future trends – nationally and provincially.
To date workshops have been held in Limpopo, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. This is supported by the launch of a new, dedicated website – populated with useful fact sheets, downloadable tools, welcome letters in mother tongues, directories for rooms, videos and niche-market recipes.
The website will work in tandem with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+. Monthly themes will celebrate international cultural events such as the Chinese New Year in February, and South African equivalents such as Heritage Day.
Following this year’s groundwork, the 2015 Welcome initiative will feature more in-depth insight and engagement. Specifics such as food, culture, economy, where tourists wish to go and what they want to buy will be addressed, with particular focus on the Indian and Australian markets.
To address the disconnect between internal perceptions of South Africans as friendly and welcoming, and the opinion of foreign visitors who rate us poorly in post-visit questionnaires, motivational tag lines such as, 'Sharing the best of you' and 'Make someone’s day today', are being used to motivate tourism trade stakeholders.
South African Tourism's goal is to see South Africans adopting a genuine attitude in the way they do business every day. In a wider social context, the Welcome aim is to create a perception of South Africa as a society in which citizens help each other.
Feedback from Durban workshop attendees
Security supervisor and frontline contact Sibonelo Nxele said he had a better understanding of the role played by South African Tourism.
'It’s great that we can interact at an individual level and share grassroots information. I have realised that there are many more ways I can help tourists, beyond keeping them safe when they visit our country.'
Switchboard personnel member Alisha Rampersad was most interested in the variety of tourist markets and how needs differ from a cultural perspective.
'In my position I am asked many questions by guests, so this workshop will help me to do my job better. I believe we should all work as a team to promote tourism in our country, so I am definitely going to make use of the Welcome country toolkits, and I’m looking forward to following the new social media accounts.'
Head concierge at Tsogo Sun Suncoast Towers Palvi Oddone Aquino rated finding out about niche markets a stand-out element of the workshop.
'It’s great to have a hands-on guest education such as this as it enables us to elevate our hospitality standards, and be better ambassadors for our city. I found the tourist insight information really interesting, as my perceptions were different. It’s also very practical for us to have quick access to the user-friendly tools that we need on the Welcome website – for me, this is crucial.'
Frontline desk staffer Leshern Naidoo found insights about cultural differences within the inbound African market most enlightening.
'It seems like we treasure our overseas clientele more, but we need to devote attention to all our visitors – everyone should be treated equally. I found the statistics and findings on African visitors very interesting; they are contributing a lot to help drive our economy.'
Interesting insights from the Durban workshop
By 2020 the Chinese will be the largest market travelling outside of their country. They travel in tour groups and are known to be prolific picture-takers who greatly value computer access, enjoy visiting top restaurants and are keen to try authentic African cuisine.
Indian travellers generally holiday in large family groups and may bring their own chefs. They are great tea lovers who enjoy shopping. Some Indians follow a strict Jain vegetarian diet.
Research on Nigerian travellers indicates that they seek premier shopping outlets, top hotels and trendy nightclubs. They are also interested in places of political significance.
Workshop attendees were reminded that many visitors plan ahead and save for years to travel. An encounter with members of the tourism industry might take place on their first visit to South Africa, so they need to be made to feel special enough to tell their friends and to return.
Rambally said research has shown that tourists’ expectations of South Africans are that they should be open, helpful, friendly and willing to share their culture. If players across the tourism sector deliver, visitors are likely to stay longer, spend more money, grow the economy and create more jobs.
It’s common knowledge that there is no better advertising than word of mouth. Research shows that of every three tourists who visit South Africa, one is motivated by personal recommendation. A positive visitor experience remains the best marketing tool available, and it’s up to every tourism role-player to put it to good use.