Industry experts agree that domestic tourism is our hope, that shining light at the end of the tunnel. But, with hopes pinned on domestic, and regional, tourism, is it enough? Can domestic tourism rescue the continent’s battered tourism industries? And how can stakeholders encourage local travel and work together to sustain our hope through to better days?
Unpacking the topic of “domestic tourism to the rescue” on 7 April 2021 were:
- Muthuri Kinyamu, Cofounder of Turnup.Travel in Kenya
- Sue Garrett, GM Marketing & Product at the Flight Centre Travel Group South Africa
- Evelyn Mahlaba, SA Tourism’s Regional General Manager for Africa
- Moderated by Natalia Rosa, Director of Big Ambitions
1. It’s domestic or die
If you’re not already focused on domestic tourism, pivot. Quickly. “It’s domestic or die,” said Muthuri Kinyamu, Cofounder of Turnup.Travel in Kenya. “It’s going to be a long ride before you get back to those 2019 [international arrivals] numbers. Domestic has to be your focus.” Sue Garrett, GM Marketing & Product at the Flight Centre Travel Group South Africa, agreed, saying that domestic tourism is looking positive, with domestic room nights for February 2021 on par with February 2020.
“Our aim was: how do we get people moving locally? We launched several campaigns with specific products around exploring your backyard, which didn’t require people to fly. We promoted self-drive, motor homes, road trips and worked closely with South African tourism to bring these campaigns to life. The best thing about it is that South Africans are now travelling locally.”
2. Develop product for the ‘new’ South African traveller
The way South Africans travel has fundamentally changed.
“South Africans are now spending a lot of money exploring our country,” says Garrett. “Pre-COVID, domestic tourism was often only for a weekend away or special occasions. But now we’re seeing longer stays and travellers looking at luxury lodges that they wouldn’t have considered or been able to stay at before – this is so fantastic to see.”
The ‘new’ South African traveller is looking for:
- Longer stays
- Luxury product (often previously reserved for international visitors only)
- Themed travel – in the absence of festivals and events, people will still travel for honeymoons, anniversaries, school holidays etc.
- Personalised travel
- Solo travel
- Escapism – people are desperate to escape
- Lifestyle travel (e.g., around gastronomy)
- Active travel
3. Market year-round
“Seasons will disappear,” said Muthuri. “We don’t only have to travel around Easter and Christmas.” “People don’t have to travel over specific periods,” agreed Mahlaba. “They are willing to trade-off if the price is right. We are doing a lot of campaigns that drive special deals.”
4. Value for money trumps ‘cheap cheap’ deals
“It has become very important that your offering itself is value for money,” said Mahlaba. “Focus on activities around your place – what’s happening in and around your destination or property. People are looking at the beach, bush and berg. Don’t just promote a hotel – it’s about the area around the hotel and the activities.”
Garrett added that consumers, in general, are looking for value for money rather than purely cheap deals.
Muthuri added that travel deals and staggered payment plans with mobile money could unlock domestic demand. “Coupled with social media and campaigns that show that safety is your priority and that you are open.”
5. Talk the talk – locally
Talk to your target market, not just in their language, but using the type of language they would use.
“What is unique for us in South Africa and the continent is the use of local slang in advertising,” said Mahlaba. “Travel used to be so prim and proper but to appeal to the people, speak in their language. Use the everyday terms for them to find your advertising.”
Muthuri added that in Kenya, home to about 44 different tribes, marketing to diverse markets in their language is critical. “This is where I see influencers and key personalities coming in – they are able to speak to audiences in the languages they understand. Muthuri expects marketing to specific segments to become more targeted in the years to come.
6. Sell confidence and dreams
“There was an information overload on what people needed to do to travel [when the pandemic first broke out],” said Muthuri. “Visual communication and assets are very important. They can improve [traveller] confidence, show compliance and bring that urgency that I can go now or start planning. This keeps people dreaming about better days.”
Garrett adds that in a recent consumer survey run by the Flight Centre Travel Group, the fear of being stranded internationally was number one, more so than any fear around health and safety protocols.
“Domestic tourism will continue to evolve over the next two to three years. It’s an opportunity and our duty to ensure that our industry and country survives.”
“International travellers want to engage with the locals,” said Evelyn Mahlaba, SA Tourism’s Regional General Manager for Africa. “If we do not market to domestic markets, then when they [international travellers] arrive, there will be no one for them to engage with. It’s imperative that we continue and do better for the domestic market.”