Whitehouse: To Thrive, Africa Must Improve Her Inter-Border Relationships

The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), South African Tourism, Ms. Margie Whitehouse, in an interview with journalists, says it is critical that African countries create inter-border relationships among each other to make the continent a destination of choice, given its beautiful culture and beautiful people. She also spoke on the Loeries Creative Award, among other issues. Abimbola Akosile brings the excerpts
What has been the driving force of your marketing objectives and vision? 
One  of our great driving forces is to
make sure that we are seen as South Africa, which is part of Africa and that we are seen not just marketing South Africa to the world but marketing the whole of Africa continent as one of the most desirable cases. In terms of the
World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) statistics, we do not cover nearly enough visitors that we should and we know that as Africa, we offer very compelling tourism experiences for everyone in the world to experience it.
What inspired the ‘We Do Tourism’ campaign being championed by South African Tourism?
The ‘We Do Tourism’ campaign is all about building the economic case for tourism not just South Africa but beyond that. It is about celebrating how important tourism is to the economy, not just in South Africa but to the whole of Africa, in growing and developing our beautiful continent.
What has been the landmark achievement of the Tourism Board over the years?
I think that whatever landmark achievement is not just about showing how beautiful Africa is because we have great beauty. We have incredible scenic wonders; we have all these kind of beautiful places to visit. But most importantly what we consider South African tourism’s great achievement is how we showcase our people. Our people have diverse cultures and are extraordinarily welcoming and that is what differentiates us. If I was to choose one thing that we have done and we will continue to drive, it is to showcase culture, and just watch it because the culture of Africa can teach the world; after all we are the birthplace of the world.
What percentage of the GDP does tourism contribute to the economy of South Africa?At the moment in South Africa, tourism contributes three per cent directly to the GDP and indirectly as nine per cent and we created 700,000 jobs last year in what is a technical recession within South Africa. We are the one part of the economy that is working and this is true to the whole of Africa, because at the end of the day if you think about it, minerals dry up. The richness of what we offer as a tourism destination is what differentiates us and it is what we need to as a
continent to focus on to grow our economies.
To what extent have you achieved results in the area of destination branding?
We haven’t even touched base in terms of what we can achieve. We are just starting to portray South Africa. In 2016, there were 1.2 billion travelers in the world and we as South Africa attracted only 10 million of which I must add close to 75 per cent are from the African continent, which is why it is so critical that we create this inter-border relationships between ourselves. We have only just touched the surface and we need to make Africa as a continent a destination of choice because of our culture, our people, and our beauty. When you look at the worldwide trend in tourism, the worldwide trends are around immersive travel, experiential travel and no way do you get it better than in Africa.
To get a South African visa is very difficult, is this not a disconnect while you try to encourage people to come into the country?
One of our greatest problems in government is the disconnect between the various departments. Home Affairs focus on the security of the borders, we focus on attracting as many visitors as we can, and you are completely right, there is a disconnect. In countries, there are different drivers in different areas of government and one of the campaigns that we are working on through ‘We Do Tourism’ is bringing us together..
I mentioned earlier that ‘We do Tourism’, which is working and bringing the various governments’ departments together to focus on what is really going to grow and develop our country while still keeping the fundamentals in place. We need to make sure that we actually welcome and recognise those people in the best possible way.
As the Chief Marketing Officer of this board, what are your projections for the next two years?
We have a wonderful strategy in place. It is called 5-in-5. We want to welcome five million more arrivals in the next five years and that is a stated target. We want to make sure that in the next five years we have four million more international arrivals and we have one million more domestic travelers that are travelling within our country because domestic travel is also very important to us.
We have set a big target and the vast majority, that is from the continent of Africa, so we need to make sure, exactly what you are asking, how do we become more welcoming, how do we look at the visa regime, how do we have a conversation about opening up our borders and how do we make the most sought-after tourist destination and how do we also share our tourist views with other countries?
Are you having any relationships with other tourism organisations in other African countries?
We are in partnership with other tourism organisations in various countries, specifically looking at ways of how we can develop sub-Saharan Africa’s overall tourism destination. We have always talked to other tourism partners within Africa to make sure that we will promote it singularly as the most attractive destination.
Nigeria and South Africa have not been on good terms, does it affect your effort to promote business relationship, and how are you resolving this?
We have an office in Lagos, Nigeria, and the essence is to ensure that we focus on attracting more travelers to our country. From an economist perspective, the department of trade and industry, yes, there is this ongoing conversation. When you look at the kind of attraction that Africa has from a tourist perspective, we need to work and unite together, to see how we can promote this beautiful continent called Africa, how we can do that together. So, to answer your question, I am saying let’s rise above issues and find a way to work together and make things work for us as a continent.
The two should work together; we can’t compete with each other. We are a continent first. In fact, there is lack of understanding around what the continent is and what it offers; let alone the countries that are in them and then down to the provinces.
Which of the African cultures is so sellable to the outside world that gives you this kind of confidence?
What gives me the confidence is that we track what the international traveler is looking for. An international traveler is looking for a relationship with a people. He is not looking at coming to watch some people play music, he is looking to come around, seeing some people play music and then sit down and have conversation with them about, what they were playing, why they were playing it and how they were playing it.
Our country has about 11 official national languages and a lot more cultures, so when people travel and come here, they have the conservation about all those cultures. We have that story right around the continent, which has real meaning to each and every person especially the millennial who do not want to travel to see beautiful things or places but they want to travel to understand themselves through engaging with others.
How are you addressing the xenophobic attacks; are you making sure that the government tackle this?
Attacks on foreign nationals are devastating to us as a tourism body, they are devastating to us as a country, do not think that we are underestimating it. Our minister has been looking for ways to understand how he can best control the police presence to ensure that every one that arrives here remain safe. We make sure that we are a welcoming nation; 55 million South Africans welcome each and every arrival, regardless of where they are from.
Why are you partnering Loeries Awards to promote Creativity Week?
The creativity that Loeries is offering is to the whole of Africa, than just being restricted to South Africa. We chose to work with some of the country’s partners to offer a broader South Africa and let all of you experience what South Africa has to offer not just Durban. We love Durban and we partner tourism authority, but it is just saying let us take this incredible opportunity to showcase the best of advertising throughout the African continent.
How are you leveraging on this partnership and relationship?
We are very simple about it. We gave those partners the opportunity to experience South Africa and see how you really feel because we believe in authenticity. We are not going to dictate what you say or how you say it, we believe in authenticity, we will showcase South Africa to you, but it is ultimately about a real South Africa. We just say come here, experience and enjoy, and relate back to us. We respect you and your profession and we know that the input you give us will be meaningful to us no matter what.
Are you doing other things to project the award, and how are you positioning the media to talk about your values?
South Africa is our brand. We are delighted to have you experience it. Let us know what you think, share it with your customers, your consumers, your listeners and your viewers and let them know what you think about it without giving you any dictate. We have a number of platforms that give you access to all our properties.You can have them, you can download them for free, and we have over 148 different videos that you can access. It is for you to show your own part of what you feel about South Africa, which as we know is more meaningful than anything else.
Who is Margie and how did you come into tourism?
Marketing for me started very long ago. I started with Unilever, which is part of your life as well in Nigeria. We all grew up in Unilever and for me it was finishing school as a marketer. I then went into fashion for a number of years working on a wonderful brand called Sales House. I had the joy of introducing Naomi Campbell to Nelson Mandela, Now, I have been working with the government for a number of years and now I find myself in the best position of all: marketing the best brand in the world, South Africa.
Are you a South African?
I am African first and foremost, so I am a fifth generation African. I was born and bred here, and I am passionate about South Africa. This is my home and this will always be my home.
Can you describe South Africa as a brand?
Let me talk about Africa first. Africa is the most innovative continent. Africa is the most incredible success story. Africa is the place that creates from the best IT solutions to the best farming solutions in the world. South Africa to me is a place that has inspired us, that breaks new ground, in everything that we do.