A study by the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation shows that prior to the pandemic, small enterprises employed between 50-60% of South Africa's workforce, contributing around 34% of GDP. Having a healthy Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMME) sector is a prime economic driver, so SMMEs success is paramount in SA’s financial recovery,
Travel and tourism SMMEs were some of the hardest hit over the past two years, crippled by periods of complete inactivity brought on by pandemic restrictions. Now that the sector is in recovery mode, many tourism SMMEs are wondering what to prioritise in order for them to bounce back?
Being graded by a recognised authority like the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA) is one way for SMMEs to instantly enhance their credibility, says Tshepo Matlou, Head of Marketing and Communications at online booking platform, Jurni.
"Grading doesn’t just provide a tourism business with a certificate and a plaque - it makes good business sense. It’s a seal of approval that assures travelers that the quality of what you’re offering has been verified by an objective and impartial entity. For most travellers searching online for a place to stay, grading is the first marker of a trustworthy holiday spot, giving them peace of mind that your facilities are of a nationally recognised standard," he says.
Grading provides SMMEs with an opportunity to boost their reputation, if they provide a service beyond their grade, states Matlou. "If you’re rated as a 3-star accommodation, for example, guests will be impressed if you go the extra mile and provide them with 4-star service".
"Evaluate every way in which you can improve a guest’s stay. Their positive experience will result in good word-of-mouth for your business, and guests who will want to return. Grading also promotes quality control - it would be a step back for a graded property to regress in its grade in the market."
In a broader perspective, grading improves the overall image of the local tourism space, therefore fast-tracking economic recovery. This is why Jurni is encouraging onboarded properties on their platform to get graded as part of market-ready
Concerns around health and safety will remain for some time to come, says Jerry Mabena, CEO of the Motsamayi Tourism Group. "Local and international travellers are still wary about health and safety issues, so the local travel and tourism industry will need to continue upholding health and safety standards.
"Covid-19 remains something we have to work with, both as a factor and a barrier in our business. It’s part of the way forward. Gradual and safe reopening of the industry is very important and health and safety protocols should be followed to ensure that travel isn’t restricted again. If that were to happen, it would be even harder for the industry to bounce back, because it would have bled value multiple times."
The wider your digital footprint is, the better your chances are at success, says Matlou. "It’s practically impossible for a small business to compete at an optimum level without an online presence in this day and age."
"Many travel businesses have great products and services but don’t know how to get bookings. Modern travellers pick their destinations and also pay for their travel experiences online. A digital footprint is, therefore, a must-have," he says.
However, costly technology and a lack of online marketing skills are common barriers that prevent many SMMEs from flourishing in the digital space - contributing, too, to the widening digital divide between tour operators already flourishing in the digital space, and those lagging behind.
"The tech advancements that assist tourism operators in being visible to an online audience and secure bookings are costly," says Matlou. "One way around this for SMMEs is to partner with bigger companies that already have that technology in place. It means avoiding the development cost but still having their business propelled into an online arena where digitally savvy travellers will notice them."
The South African tourism industry is rich with authentic experiences, world-class destinations and properties. Getting graded, adhering to health and safety protocols, and embracing technology as an economic enabler are all factors that will assist small tourism businesses, helping them to regain value quicker.