The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has calculated that last year, the direct contribution of the travel and tourism sector to the South African economy was worth R127,9bn, accounting for 3% of the country's GDP.
Commenting on the WTTC findings presented in its recent 2017 Economic Impact Report, Margi Biggs, convenor of the upcoming The Business of Food and Wine Tourism Conference, set to take place in Stellenbosch in September, said the good news was that the council has projected the sector's contribution to domestic GDP will rise by 2,7% in 2017, a very welcome increase given the subdued state of our local economy.
A seasoned travel and tourism specialist, Biggs contends that travel and tourism can contribute still further to national GDP, "provided we as an industry take note of new trends in consumer spending, behaviour and priorities to make our food and tourism offerings more compelling and more competitive, while upping the standard of our execution and service delivery."
"If we get it right, the impact will be substantial. It will help to build skills, create economic opportunities and reduce unemployment, generating greater prosperity for more South Africans. We have all the right ingredients: beautiful locations, a growing reputation for world-class food and wines, and friendly and welcoming hospitality staff. We just have to finesse what we are doing with the technology and research we now have at our disposal, while applying new thinking to marketing and problem-solving," she said.
She said the annual conference, now in its second year, would be presented by a selection of international and local tourism specialists and would focus on best practice and how to improve the customer experience. An important feature of the forum would be the various ways in which wine and food impact customer loyalty. "There is a growing view internationally that customer experience will ultimately drive more loyalty than complicated point-based programmes and schemes. We need to take note."
Amongst this year's keynote speakers is CEO of SA Tourism, Sisa Ntshona. His address will explore how the food and wine experience can promote South Africa's competitive advantage as a tourist destination. Included in the line-up of international speakers are Don Shindle, an expert in customer service and GM of the Westin Verasa Napa in California's renowned wine tourism epicentre; and world-renowned TV personality, Andrea Robinson, one of only 23 female master sommeliers in the world. Dr Robin Back, a South African-born, US-based academic who conducts wine tourism research in both South Africa and the US will be looking specifically at the impact on loyalty of cellar door visits. The programme will also cover such topics as virtual reality, attracting new markets, and PR trouble shooting.
The conference takes place at Spier on Wednesday, 20 September.