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Editor’s Note: Skift is publishing a series of interviews with CEOs of destination marketing organizations where we discuss the future of their organizations and the evolving strategies for attracting visitors. Read all the interviews as they come out here.
This continues our series of CEO interviews that began with online travel CEOs in Future of Travel Booking (now an e-book), and continued with hotel CEOs in the Future of the Guest Experience series (which is also an e-book).
Earlier this winter Enver Duminy, CEO of Cape Town Tourism, visited Skift’s office in New York City along with Velma Corcoran, Executive Manager Marketing for the organization, to discuss the city’s tourism marketing efforts.
During the conversation we touched on the challenge of selling a long-haul city escape in a region that’s known for being a bucket list safari destination, as well as how African destinations try to educate potential travelers in order to overcome stereotypes and lack of basic geography skills.
Most notably, Duminy discussed the role currency fluctuations play in travel planning and what destinations can do to better position themselves to react better to changes.
An edited version of the interview appears here.
Skift: You did well after the World Cup. Not every destination does well after a big event. What do you think Cape Town did post-World Cup or during or in the lead up that made it pay off in the way that planners of these events dream of?
Enver Duminy: The World Cup was the catalyst for a big perception shift for our destination. It started showcasing Africa and South Africa beyond the perception of sand, surf and safari holiday – revealing the beauty of the country and its people in an urban context. You would not get air play to that value if you had to create a campaign.
There is a lot of talk about whether the hosting of a major event is beneficial to a destination, but in terms of our own cohesion, winning that World Cup bid was exactly what we needed. The lead up to the World Cup was a time of cross-sector partnership, common purpose and unified messaging. It showed us what we could do if we pulled together and it created lasting relationships that broke down silos and set the benchmark for our own efficiency.
We learnt from other destinations who had previously hosted mega-events too. So our big focus was on legacy and exit projects after the World Cup.
Skift: Such as?
Duminy: If we look at making sure there was football fields that were built within communities that were disadvantaged. Creating programs of learning and educating future coaches, particularly looking at football. There was also fast tracking of a lot of infrastructure that would have taken a lot longer if it wasn’t for the World Cup. So we’re looking at creating accessibility from impoverished communities into the central business districts, looking at integrated rail as well as bus services.
Then from a tourism perspective it was just the opportunity, again, to show the destination as this metropolis. There’s a thriving economy, there’s investment opportunities. When people came out for the World Cup they could also do business. This was great opportunity. They were speaking to markets that, traditionally, would not be speaking to because of the participants within the World Cup itself. That gave us opportunity to actually market the destination to them.
Questions and concerns around safety were dealt with. It’s kind of just trying to change perceptions. It’s still a distance from market and from our key source market. That is one of the biggest challenges for us. UK, U.S., Germany, in that order, are still, from an international tourism perspective, still the biggest drivers for tourism to South Africa and to Cape Town. We’ve always been seen as a leisure destination and specifically over summer. That is one of our biggest challenges. How do we start to get more people to travel to Cape Town over our winter period, which is not as cool or as miserable as in some other places.
If we look at the time that people have available to travel now, it’s getting shorter. And the cost of travel is becoming a lot more expensive. So those are all factors that can make people say yes, I want to go there, yes, it’s great and everything’s aspirational but I’d rather stay at home or I’ll do a staycation in my country, et cetera, et cetera.
The question we were left with after the World Cup, was now that we’ve made the wins about the destination how do we create conversion? So that’s what we’ve been focusing on and will continue to focus on over the next three to five years. At the moment we are looking at how we can give voice to authentic storytelling and then making sure that we provide the right content to the consumer at the right time.
Cape Town Tourism is an industry association; similar to NYC & Company. We’ve got over 1,200 businesses as members. Then we also provide destination marketing services for the city.
Cape Town Tourism is pretty much slap-bang in the middle of the visitor, the industry, and local government. Our challenge is to make sure that we increase demand for the destination over the next 3 years but specifically over the winter period, and at the same time try to generate our own organisational income.
Skift: What’s been the most effective method of either increasing more visits from the UK, the U.S., and Germany or from other destinations that you’re trying to get into?
Duminy: One of the key successes in sustaining and increasing visits from those key markets stems from the fact that it’s a joint effort – South African Tourism; Regional Tourism bodies; travel trade and the individual tourism products are all focusing on those same markets. As Cape Town Tourism, a method we have found to be very effective is harnessing the age old power of word of mouth – we’ve created strong social media platforms to allow visitors to share their experiences, which are then read by a multitude of potential visitors; and we also use other social sharing platforms (Tripadvisor, etc.) as listening tools. We’ll pick up on conversations the various markets are having about the destination and then create content on our blog and social media platforms that speak to what they’re searching for.
We also continue to engage with the travel trade in our key source markets, providing them with a constant stream of high quality content for use in their sales efforts.
Our key source markets remain steady, whereas, we’ve seen bigger increases from Asia and South America. New markets are skittish and of course we have had some challenges recently with the Ebola outbreak and the perception that it affected the entire African continent.
Skift: I apologize. I blame our schools.
Duminy: We are also noticing that there has been a shift towards more independent travellers. So we may see that play itself out when we get the latest numbers.
Of course, the exchange rate remains in our favour. It’s not great for the rest of our economy but it’s fantastic for tourism – although the challenges come later, particularly with return visitors, when the currency improves in our favour and visitors don’t have as much cash in their pockets. On another levels a weak Rand means that South African’s are less likely to travel overseas and explore their own country instead.
Exchange rate, even within the destination, affects different people within different social standings. It is of less consequence to a youth traveller than a pensioner for instance. We are trying to look at this now from an economics perspective – how can we sell based on reaction to exchange rates?
I think we also have a big role in helping the outbound trade understand our destination much better. The challenge is always trying to get them as much updated content and experiences as possible because at times, I think they’ll still sell the same thing in the same way even though the consumer has changed. Also, from a consumer perspective, we know that they’re not always going to the trade, they are shopping around, using the internet and social media – user review is everything.
Skift: How do you think your shift of the focus from the trade to other outlets has fared?
Velma Corcoran: Our budget is minuscule. So we don’t have any money to do any sort of above the line advertising programs. We don’t even have money for joint marketing agreements. We’ve had to be really really smart about how we work. I think the key things that we’ve done that we’ve shifted in the last while is I think in the last three years our relationship with South Africa Tourism, which was previously not as strong, has become really really strong in the market. So we really leverage off what they do and we are quite smart about constantly feeding them with information about what’s new in Cape Town, what’s cool, sending them images, whatever so that it makes it really easy when they’re selling South Africa to put Cape Town in.
Skift: Because they have the content …
Corcoran: By working on our relationships with the country managers, and constantly feeding them with fresh and relevant content about Cape Town it makes it easier for them to profile Cape Town in the marketing they do for South Africa.
The second thing that we work hard on is media hosting. What we try and do is, if any key media come to Cape Town, is really to help them uncover the various layers of the destination. We’ll obviously help in terms of experiences, et cetera but we’ll meet with them, we’ll try and figure out what story angles they want to cover.
If you’re more focused on food, how do we hook you up to key foodies? How can you go and spend the day with a blogger and they can show you their version of Cape Town? So really having to uncover those layers.
We were probably one of the first destinations that starting doing blogger trips with the hashtag. Now everybody does it. It’s become a bit … I don’t know how credible they are anymore. I think what we have realized is that, as a DMO, we’re not the best people to tell the story because that’s our jobs.
So we’re not as authentic as other people. So really working with influences … and I think the influencers have moved beyond the travel blogger because I think people only really read travel blogs when they’re planning their trip. Working with lifestyle bloggers, working with Instagram, working with whoever to try and get them to tell the stories … and actually, even working with Instagram we’ve now realized that what you can’t do is the sort of traditional Instameet doesn’t work anymore because then you’ve got five guys who all take pride in what they’re doing but they’re sort of competing for the same picture. So how do you help send them on different journeys so that they can create the best pictures?
Then, in terms of working with a trade, we realised that you need to make life easy for the trade. The trade want money. There was a while where we would go to trade shows and we’d have terrible meetings with the trade because they’d be like okay so let’s have a joint-marketing agreement and you give us $50,000, and we’re like we don’t have $50,000, and they’d be like okay well why are you meeting with us? Lots of those meetings. We understood that if we can give them relevant and tailored content that they can use and don’t have to look for themselves then there is a way to work with them that does not involve money.
Skift: In terms of being smart, I just want to return to the thing you were talking about. Currency and exchange rates. Is that something that you’ve seen other DMOs do or you have a history of doing there or is it just your background, you’re like okay we need to think about this smarter?
Duminy: I have a background in finance. I am not sure whether other DMOs are evaluating in the same way but I am sure they are doing some similar research. Another thing we have done in order to address winter and seasonality is to create a seasonality filter of possible markets. We know the UK won’t travel in their summer, when it’s our winter, so we are looking at markets that will
For us, it’s just about trying to do things … I wouldn’t say smarter, but differently, because of the challenges we face. Having smaller budgets makes you a lot more picky about what you invest in.
Right now people’s expectations are exceeded by the destination. This is great but what do we have to do to sell ourselves in line with the reality that people are not seeing or believing till they get here.
Skift: You said perception a couple of times and I think that Africa, as a giant continent with many many countries very far apart, has perception challenges, especially in the U.S. Ebola, you mentioned, even though I think probably Florida is closer to where Ebola broke out than South Africa. What’s the most effective means of not necessarily battling against perception but changing perceptions?
Duminy: I think that it’s through continuous education and proactive communication. It’s about educating trade, consumers, using social media and all our available platforms to correct perception problems and to allow destination users to help us do the same.
We want people to know its okay to bring your family and not to only realise that when you get here. It’s up to us to seed experiences and propagate the communications to grow organically. That’s where you start. You have to deal with the good and the bad, whether its racism, Ebola, safety, the whole world has the same kind of issues.
Skift: You mentioned money a couple of times about being smart with budgets. Do you think that there’s a better model for a DMO out there that just nobody’s been able to pull off yet or that you guys are working towards?
Duminy: Yes we have definitely been doing some introspection about our model. A limitation for us is not to become independent from government funding or from private sector funding. It’s about finding the right level of matching. The membership model gives us deliverables that people are willing to pay for.
If you can demonstrate value, I think it makes the whole emotional conversation a lot easier – better than begging for money, or saying will this justify our existence, which lots of DMOs have to do now. We see ourselves as the connector and facilitator – connecting members to each other and the industry as well as the visitor – and then also connecting visitors to the destination, its people and the members. Without those connections we have fragmented tourism response. So yes, I think we still have a relevant role to play.