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SME challenges to enter tourism not insurmountable

Apr 19 2017 18:32
Carin Smith

Cape Town - Sustainable tourism has become too much of a "ticked box" approach for many companies and a marketing tool instead of being used to plough back into communities, according to Enver Mally, director of African Eagle Day Tours and chair of the board of Cape Town Tourism.

"Often the phrase sustainable tourism is used just as a buzz-word to appeal to overseas visitors," he said during a panel discussion on responsible tourism market access for SMEs at World Travel Market (WTM) Africa on Wednesday.

"Responsible tourism is more than just not putting a used towel on the floor or not."

In his view, one of the problems of tourism as it is practiced in South Africa today is that it is a bit "cliquey" - only certain areas are visited and only certain people have access.

"On the other hand there are communities which have things to offer. SMEs can be found in those areas and brought into the more mainstream sector. That to me is responsible tourism," Mally told the audience.

He said in the past a people would go to a travel agent who would determine the trip they went on.

"You had very little control over. These days, however, with online and disruptors in the industry, individuals can book their own tours," said Mally.

"There lies the gap and market for SMEs in my view. People taking control of their own journey are more adventurous and want a more authentic real experience. You cannot come to SA and not have a black or non-white experience. Africa is black, if you like it or not."

For him this is where the opportunities lie for SMEs to design products for tourists.

Marketing challenges

That brings another question for him, namely how to get tourists to your business, because one needs money for marketing.

"You cannot compete with the big guys in terms of their marketing budget. Therefore, collaborate with them and form partnerships - but make sure you come with a unique product," said Mally.

"It is about partnerships and big companies should also mentor SMEs and develop skills. At the same time SMEs must not see themselves as outsiders. They must join tourism organisations and network. Don't stay at home - get on the field and network."

Harold Goodwin, WTM responsible tourism adviser, said one of the key questions to ask when looking at responsible tourism from the angle of market access for SMEs is whether there is cooperation or competition between the formal and informal or emerging sectors in this regard, according to Harold Goodwin, WTM responsible tourism adviser.

"Often the cooperation between the formal and informal or emerging sectors ends up being a case where the informal enterprise is being taken over by the bigger formal one," said Goodwin.

"Furthermore, there are examples in the world where certification has been used to exclude informal SMEs from the tourism industry."

Kgomotso Pooe, director of Soweto Outdoor Adventures, said bigger companies should look for SMEs to partner with.

Township marketing

"It saddens me that when Cape Town is marketed townships are not covered. In Soweto we managed to groom SMEs so tourists can flood in and out of the township," said Pooe.

"Yes, Africa is a black city and a black country. There are well packaged businesses out there in townships you can polish a bit to work with you."

Pooe added that the rand is also working in favour of SA tourism.

In his view seminars should be held in townships to show people what the opportunities for SMEs are in the tourism industry.

To this Mally added that it is all about educating people in a given area about what tourism opportunities they could develop.

"Go into communities and find products," he told bigger businesses.

During question time a member of the audience said there is a lot of suspicion among SMEs about big companies taking their ideas when they share it with them.

To this Pooe replied that it is all about how unique a product is and how well it is executed.

Mally added there certainly are companies out there following bad ethics. He said his only suggestion for SMEs would be to be bold and ask big companies to work together with them. And if they "steal" an idea, then name and shame them.

Goodwin emphasised that there is no copyright on itineraries, but that the quality of tours is what is important.

"It has a lot to do with the relationship a company has with the tour guides and the community. The right relationship with the community is very important," he concluded.

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