In the past, one of the big selling points about South Africa was that it was an inexpensive destination for foreign tourists. But nowadays, even with the rand having weakened like an overweight paunch-drunk boxer to worse than R9 to the US dollar, the country is getting a reputation for being a very expensive place to visit.
It's all about price
The blame for this does not lie entirely with local businesses jacking up their prices but also with airlines and overseas travel agents.
On a visit to the USA last month I spoke to a lot of seasoned tourists, all of whom really wanted to visit South Africa. They'd heard so much about it - thanks largely to Nelson Mandela and the 2010 World Cup - and frankly weren't fazed about the crime and violence, pointing out that certain parts of their own countries experienced pretty much the same thing.
But, they all told me that coming to South Africa was a very expensive exercise.
Why so high?
For a start, airfares from the USA and Europe, for example, are almost twice the price of air fares from South Africa to those destinations.
Secondly, when I was told what travel agents had quoted would be visitors to South Africa I noticed that in almost every case they had been quoted for five star hotels and only the top game lodges as though these were the only options.
No-one I spoke to had been advised of the fact that we have a remarkable network of excellent B&B's and that the Kruger National Park's own accommodation is an attractive alternative to the upmarket game lodges that lie on its fringes.
So, what can be done? Well, first of all, I believe that South Africa's five star hotels are among the most expensive in the world for what one is getting. For example, I visited the Biltmore Hotel in Miami - an iconic five star hotel and was amazed to find that its average room rates were lower than those of many of our so-called five star establishments in US dollar terms.
It seems to be that those who market South Africa need to educate travel agents about offering alternatives to five-star packages.
I also believe that South Africa should consider doing what the city of Las Vegas does in terms of subsidising air travel. Las Vegas is one of the cheapest destinations in the USA. Whether this is financially feasible or not, I have no idea, but certainly our country's marketers need to look at some way of enticing foreign airlines to drop their fares for visitors to South Africa. There has got to be some sort of negotiable trade-off.
There is no doubt that South Africans could entice millions more visitors to its shores if it started thinking out of the box in terms of marketing this country and focussing on the real reasons why so many foreigners want to come and visit but end up going somewhere else.
It's no good, in my opinion, just punting South Africa by shopping, through advertising and promotion, what a wonderful place this is, but in addition, removing what appears to be a lot of expensive stumbling blocks.
Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.
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Chris, In addition I have noticed that a lot of offers published by hotels, groups, travel agents etc are marked as "South Africans only". This is no doubt due to the fact that they charge more to take advantage of the Dollar/Euro exchange rate. Most African countries do this. It's basically ripping off foreign tourists. They get the same room, same food, same service but pay more?? Go figure, hows that for enticing foreign tourists...
Having moved from Europe to SA recently I very much agree, Chris! An European family of 4 will pay for a 3-week SA holiday as much as they would for a new car back home. That is partially due to the high airfares for a long-haul destination, and partially due to accommodation rates. SA is one of the most striking places on earth. It has so much to offer - beaches, mountains, deserts, fantastic wines, excellent food, incredible wildlife and an unique mix of cultures, people, music... Plus, like you mentioned, a large variety of excellent B&B's and well educated independent travel guides. WHAT MORE DOES ONE NEED to market a successful brand (SA) worldwide? Also for business travel, like conferences or incentive trips, SA has huge potential. But if prices rise the way they do, unfortunately SA will lose out. Shame! So, who sits at the decision making table???
I travel in KwaZulu-Natal and the Cape- and also in other Southern African countries- pretty extensively as a travel journalist of sorts and am embarrassed by the rip-offs.For example I was with a German family of four- the mum is part of a big tour organisation- and we left a five star game lodge with bad tastes in our mouths. Over and above the R3k plus per person per night, every bottle of water was charged extra, and staff popped into sight very obviously hovering for tips on check-out day. They even had guidelines printed in the rooms which equated to around R500 tips per day for cleaning staff and game guides. The clearly marked envelopes were lined up next to the bill. They charge a fortune and pay their staff a pittance. SA has a reputation for shark mentality- bite off as much as possible in 1 go with no thought for the future.
Having just spent 8 months living and working Kenya, where I experienced a few tourists excursions, we are less expensive than Kenya all round. Flights in Kenya are crazy. It was going to cost me $1 300 for a Nairobi/London return ticket. 3 days and nights at Diani Beach were going to cost in the region of $2 000 - with a local flight!
Last year I did a trip to Zambia. A day of tiger fishing on the Zambezi, then 6 nights in decent lodges in the South Luangwa Valley cost over R24 000.
Africa is not a inexpensive place to visit or experience. Unlike Thailand, where they keep their currency down to encourage tourists and their exports viable, that doesn't appear to be a priority in South Africa. As a result, they end up with a lot of package tour type tourism and backpackers living on a tight budget.
The other issue is that elsewhere, competition in the airline industry keeps fares at a consumer friendly level. We just don't have enough competition and typically in SA, collusion seems rampant in the industry.
I am told that South Africa doesn't want too much of the back packer variety of tourist. They want high net worth individuals who are prepared to pay the crazy prices that we locals can no longer afford at Londilozi, Singitha or Sabi Sabi. They keep people employed, bring in hard currency and keep people coming back. So what is the balance?
My experience of Kenya is that they have a 3 pillar system. A local price, a regional cost and an international cost. Frankly, I thought it an insidious system, but it somehow seems to work in a number of African countries. Maybe it has to implemented here so that we can all enjoy our own beautiful country.