Gauteng SME Indaba: an operator’s experience

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Martin Hatchuel
Martin Hatchuel

In April, 2015, Paul Miedema of Port Elizabeth’s Calabash Tours stood up at the 11th annual Responsible Tourism in Destinations Conference (which was held in Cape Town during World Travel Market Africa), and said that he was pissed off. (Watch this interview recorded shortly after his presentation.)

Paul’s always been an advocate for change, and he was pissed off because he felt tourism wasn’t responding to the issues of the day.

In his interview, he posed three questions: “Do we understand who we are as South Africans? Do we understand what we’re selling as a destination? And do we understand where we come from as a country? “Because we can’t just continue to sell our beautiful coastline and our fantastic game reserves and our five star lodges: we really need to engage more on a people-to-people level.”

…And then he summed up his frustration in this single sentence: “I find the industry just pretends it’s business as usual as all of this anger and this social exclusion that people are expressing is coming in waves all across the country.”

Fortunately, though, it seems that some progress might have been made in the last year.

GAUTENG SME INDABA

Paul attended the first Gauteng SME Indaba earlier this month, and recorded a second interview shortly after his return – and, given the backdrop of his earlier statements, it’s interesting to hear what he now had to say.

According to Gauteng.net, the Indaba was designed to “immerse attendees in the changing tourism industry while exploring the role that SMEs and trade play in developing the industry, market access, mentoring and training.”

With space “for 40 SATSA trade members and 60 Gauteng tourism SMEs” (according to SATSA), the aim was to “introduce inbound tourism and trade to 60 carefully selected and prepared emerging Gauteng tourism businesses.”

The event took place on 29 February and 1 March, 2016, in Kliptown in Soweto, and included speed marketing sessions and a transformation panel debate with panelists Kgomotso Pooe of Soweto Outdoor Adventures; the chairperson of the City of Joburg Portfolio Committee for Economic Development, Willie van der Schyf; the MD of Fairfield Tours, Juliane Loubser; and SATSA’s David Frost. (Transformation panel?)

Paul said that the Indaba as a whole took “an interesting approach, trying to link emerging products with mainstream buyers.”

He noted that the Gauteng Province, “focuses on township economies as one of the areas of economic development” – and this, he said, was important for the success of the event. Like many of us, Paul has often expressed frustration at the political approach to development in tourism, especially as you see it at the trade shows – where small businesses, who’re often not ready to approach the markets, are dragged along and left to rot on stands provided by local or provincial authorities while the big guns connect with one another without even noticing them.

“The SME Indaba was innovative because – for the last twenty years or so – we’ve been trying to see how we can link emerging products with big players. “We’ve sent them to trade shows – WTM, ITB – but it hasn’t brought about the kind of meaningful change we want to see, of getting the smaller suppliers into the mainstream industry.”

BUYERS

The Gauteng SMEs Indaba, said Paul, attracted quality buyers. “There were significant people there to meet with significant emerging products.”

Asked whether the buyers represented inbound or domestic markets, Paul said that, “this is an interesting question, because most of them are inbound operators, so they’re very much focussed on what is palatable and suitable – and sellable – to that market. And one of my recommendations to the organisers was that there were some products there that were not suitable at all to the international markets: two-star guest houses, for example, are not something that a tour operator would normally sell.

“But those guys are doing business. They’re doing corporate business, and they are doing domestic business…”

This, he said, “is where we have to be realistic.” Some products are suitable for the international market, some aren’t – which in no way negates the latter. “It’s a particular choice that a business makes,” he said.

MARKET READY

Paul said that the organisers ensured that the 60 products that attended the Indaba were market ready.

“I think that this was part of the success of the event: there was a process of selection, and then a process of work-shopping and training.”

And getting 60 small businesses up to speed in this way was, “no small feat” – as you can imagine.

For future events, though, he said that it would be important to look at where individual businesses “would fit best in terms of product offering.”

Talking about the capacity of the products to handle small as well as large numbers of visitors, Paul said that it was interesting to see, for example, that the accommodation providers of Soweto’s famous Vilakazi Street presented themselves as a collective – which means that, while each individual home has beds for only a few people, the houses are all within walking distance of one another, so accommodating larger groups is very possible.

INDUSTRY

There’s much that the industry can do to help emerging products, said Paul – including teaching people how to work with variable rates for different markets and different channels. (This is where industry rather, than, say, consultants, is vital – “because we understand the channels from a very practical point of view.”)

It’s important, too, to get over the idea that ‘the good products go to the international markets.’

“That’s just nonsense,” said Paul. Because, while a good two-star guest house might not be appropriate for the international market, that is not to say that it’s an inferior business.

One of tourism’s challenges lies in the scope of the creativity of new businesses. There’s a lot of duplication in any sector, but those businesses that he identified as outstanding at the Indaba “were often driven by people whose passion lay in other areas – so for example, a passion for story-telling becomes the vehicle for mobilising tourism. Or the graffiti artist who understands graffiti, understands global trends in graffiti, and interprets Joburg’s inner city for you through that lens.

“What struck me there was the diversity: I think that small entrepreneurs are learning that tourism is not static. They’re beginning to understand that experiential tours – more engaging offerings – may not appeal to mainstream tour operators, but will appeal to people on social media, for example.

“So businesspeople are beginning to understand the differentiation in the market, which shows a maturing kind of SME that’s coming forward.”

In summing up, Paul said that he thinks that change is coming – partly because some of the very big tour operators are beginning to understand that there’s value for them in doing business with the SMEs.

“But it’s still a bit slow” – and while there is a growing awareness, “the balance of forces still lies very much in the hands of the big CEOs who are doing what they’ve always done.”

But, he said, he picked up a trend amongst the emerging entrepreneurs that’s extremely significant. “The emerging entrepreneurs are starting to say that we need to organise ourselves more, we need to know what our issues are.” And this is vital because, “it’s their voices we need to hear.

“They are the ones who are struggling to access the market. They are the ones who have often good ideas, but are not understanding where the channels will take them, and what the possibilities are in terms of selling their product.”

RESPONSIBLE TOURISM

At the end of the day, though, Paul thought that, “with all the pressure to transform (political pressure, BEE, etc. etc.), it’s almost as though we’ve forgotten what the thing is that we want” – which is to support people and help them to grow their businesses.

And this led him to conclude that there were two areas of concern that worried him.

“The one is that very few of the entrepreneurs that I engaged with had any understanding of their own positive or negative social impact. So when I asked them ‘you operate in Soweto, how does that benefit Soweto?’ there wasn’t a very refined discourse around that, and I think that’s a failing of our industry.

“The second thing that disturbed me was that I met a guy who runs a very nice bed and breakfast on the Vaal, and when I asked him if he does anything for the environment, [I discovered that he was] uber-green! He was recycling rainwater, he had solar panels, he had water tanks, he was harvesting water, he had planted indigenous, he had an organic garden!

“But when I asked him why he didn’t tell me that, he said, ‘I didn’t think anyone would be interested.’

“So here was a guy who had a pretty green establishment who didn’t realise that that was his USP, and that worried me a little bit. I didn’t hear a lot of talk about how people presented that related to a more responsible or sustainable kind of vision – which is a corner-stone of our policy as South Africa.

“Our focus is very much on economic connection, and we are not looking at the possibilities that come out of those connections.”

All in all, though, Paul said that he hopes that the SME Indaba “happens again. I hope it rolls out to different areas, and I think it was – Martin, it was so much better than just seeing all of those poor souls that we’ve seen at Indaba year after year, on the provincial stands, not really knowing what the hell they should be doing, not really talking to anyone, and being told that this is your big business opportunity to meet buyers.

“This was a far more intimate, far more direct way of connecting people.”

And that, after all, is what tourism’s supposed to be about, isn’t it?


Blommekloof Country Cottages self-catering for sale

One of This Tourism Week’s clients, Blommekloof Self Catering Cottages, has just come onto the market.

This beautifully scenic, self-sufficient, 14.8 ha lifestyle farm is situated in the peaceful, tranquil Leeukloof Valley near Ruiterbos, in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains – 20 minutes from Mossel Bay.

The property boasts a double story farmhouse; 2 furnished & equipped, income-generating self-catering cottages (one renovated 3-bedroom unit and one newly-built 2-bedroom unit); large shed & tool shed – all of which are currently going off the grid. It’s also got three large dams with leiwater feed – and massive swaths of lilies!

The property’s fertile soil is suitable for fruit & nut production.

The sale is being handled by Rayvin Rademeyer at Pam Golding Properties, George. More info here. (Please don’t phone Blommekloof directly).


On a personal note

Thank you for your patience in waiting for this edition of This Tourism Week. It’s been a while!

Unfortunately I was sidetracked by family issues over the last year or so, so this project has had to take a back seat.

It’s all behind us, though, and I’m back – with two request: please contact me with any ideas for articles for This Tourism Week. And please tell your friends about it and ask them to subscribe. They can do this online or simply by mailing me: martinhatchuel@gmail.com.

  • And remember – I’m available to help you develop all your communications tools: text, images, brochures, printing, web sites, strategies, business case studies, and so on.

Now go away on holiday – it’s in the economy’s best interests.

And have a great tourism week!

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