AfricaLive talks with Ms Nomasonto Ndlovu, CEO of the Limpopo Tourism Authority, on how the South African province can attract a greater share of African tourists. The province is stepping up marketing efforts to bring business tourists to the province. As Ms Ndlovy notes, where tourism goes trade will follow. Is tourism the gateway to increased trade for South Africa’s provinces?
AfricaLive: Under your leadership, how will the identity and influence of Limpopo Tourism Authority develop in the coming years?
Ms Ndlovu: I lead a public entity that is under the Economic Development & Tourism Department. We take our lead and mandate from the government in terms of marketing and tourism in Limpopo province. What I see going forward under the new administration is a greater focus on tourism. We are likely to get more support as an entity in our efforts to make Limpopo more visible and more attractive. Our goal is to make Limpopo the envy of other provinces and make it the talk of the continent. If we can get the visibility and chatter we want, trade and investment will surely follow.
AfricaLive: Africa only receives three per cent of global tourism revenue. Increasing arrivals between African nations is one way to grow that figure quickly. What steps can be taken to accelerate the growth of intra-African tourism?
Ms Ndlovu: The Limpopo Tourism Authority is well-positioned to foster intra-African trade because our province borders Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. Our proximity to these countries is a major positive because most of our international numbers come from these countries. More can be done to boost intra-African trade though. The conference and meetings business involves a lot of meet-ups all over the continent. We can make use of those meet-up sessions to network and share leads that will lead to intra-African business. We need to open up this conversation as African CEOs of industry and begin forming collaborative bonds. Having an open line of communication as CEOs will see us share ideas. It will also help us tackle common challenges and embrace the things we have in common.
AfricaLive: Where do you see the potential to increase collaboration between African countries and organisations to improve the sector?
Ms Ndlovu: Increased intra-African collaboration can be a direct result of conferencing around the activities we are already involved in. In Limpopo, we are active in mining, tourism, and agriculture. The conversations that can be had around those key sectors of the economy alone can boost intra-African collaboration. The conversations that can also be had around social sectors such as health and education can also increase intra-African interactions and collaborations. Individual countries can also take up the responsibility of promoting other African countries. It would be great if children can be taught in school that other African countries are home too. This way, they will grow up with a borderless view of Africa.
As much as we want to open our land borders, we should also open our sky borders. The high cost of flying from one African country to another must be reviewed. We must address not only the cost but also the bulky paperwork requirements involved. Serious intra-African collaboration can’t exist if all these colonial bottlenecks still exist.
Intra-African tourism will not grow by us just pushing the message down people’s throats. We must be creative enough to appeal to people’s passions and interests as well. The Limpopo Tourism Authority is leading by example through our Tour De Limpopo cycling race event. This race saw tourists from twenty-six African countries make their way to Limpopo last year. We had people from as far as Eritrea who would have probably never bothered to come to Limpopo if it wasn’t for the cycling race. Events like the Tour de Limpopo will bring Africans together organically without having to spend a lot of money and energy on promotional campaigns. The internet and social media are also doing us a massive favour. In this era of smartphones and YouTube, our youth are increasingly following and visiting each other. This also boosts the potential of Intra-African collaborations and partnerships.
AfricaLive: African countries do a great job of marketing themselves as tourist destinations. Their efforts often get undermined by below-par customer service and delivery. What can be done to ensure excellence in service delivery to tourists?
Ms Ndlovu: We have to commit to consistent educational efforts. These educational efforts should be part of organisational culture because employees walk in and out of the industry. All our members of staff that come into contact with tourists must understand the need for exemplary service delivery. All employees must be made to understand that tourists spend their hard-earned money on our institutions. They must, therefore, be given special attention and care throughout their stay. Interestingly enough, we just held our service excellence awards for tourism. The whole idea behind the award event is to stress the need for quality of service. Improving service delivery must also involve a multi-disciplinary approach to tourism. The basics of tourism and hospitality must be taught to non-tourism students in schools as well. This is important because tourists come into contact with non-hospitality staff as well during their stay here. If we can get people to have the right attitude towards tourists, we can endear tourists to our countries.
AfricaLive: How should the tourism sector approach the balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability?
Ms Ndlovu: This can be a tough balancing act, especially if the tourism and environmental departments are separate. A lot can be done through education as well as working with the environmental arm towards sustainability initiatives. We also need structured forums and conversations on sustainability. Aside from educational efforts, we might also need new legislation to force the sustainability agenda. It is also essential for us to step away from the habit of forming task forces to push our agendas. Setting up joint task forces to look into things only wastes our resources and doesn’t solve much. We need to have a mindset shift instead of addressing some of these problems.