As the South African tourism industry readies itself for the first “normal” summer holiday period after a beleaguered two-year period, there are a few stumbling blocks halting the recovery of small businesses within the sector.
When industry leaders recently met at the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) Leadership Conference to discuss and map the way forward for the travel sector, one of the key takeaways was that tourism SMMEs need all the help they can get to propel their growth forward.
Globally, tourism destinations are dominated by small to medium tourism enterprises, and South Africa is no different. Although SA has a robust travel SMME sector, these smaller players need every bit of help they can get to thrive, says Tshepo Matlou, head of marketing and communications of the online booking platform, Jurni.
Access to market is still a big hurdle
Access to the market is a hurdle for many of these smaller businesses. “In this day and age, travel operators need to adopt digital marketing to reach new audiences, rather than just trying to supplement a traditional marketing approach with a few small digital efforts,” he states.
“One obstacle blocking this is the availability of marketing capital available to travel SMMEs. Marketing a business can be expensive, and not having access to big budgets is a definite handicap for smaller accommodation providers, such as B&Bs and guesthouses.”
An online booking platform, that offers local SMME accommodation providers an affordable way to showcase their properties is vital for the growth of the sector, says Matlou.
“It allows them to reach much larger audiences than they could have through their own efforts, and also helps to level the playing field within the sector. The knock-on effect of this is stimulated competition, which, over time, will improve the overall quality of travel products on offer in the market.”
An underlying fear of tech solutions
While digital will undoubtedly help propel SMMEs forward, speakers at the conference also discussed how many travel operators in rural areas and townships have an underlying fear of tech from a data-safety perspective. “This includes the fear of fraud and having their data stored in a cloud – a process they feel they have no control of,” says Matlou.
Education, therefore, is key to addressing such fears among stakeholders. “Our clients, for example, are small businesses and we’ve been demystifying this old notion by creating workshops nationally and educating small business owners regarding the safety aspect of using a tech-based platform. We also provide the client with a signed agreement that speaks to maintaining the safety and integrity of their data when they are on board,” says Matlou.
“We will need to collaborate with other service providers in the market in order to scale up, in order to integrate more online activity and accommodation providers to make sure that everyone is connected,” says Matlou.
“People’s travel needs have most definitely changed over the past few years. The new generation of travellers is looking for authentic experiences and social engagement, which means they want to spend time in places that are connected to their interests and passions.
“They want authentic experiences like interacting with locals, eating locally sourced food, and drinking locally brewed beer. They also want to add meaning to their travel experience by connecting with people who live in these cities and doing things that make them feel like locals,” concludes Matlou.