Embracing the tide: challenges and opportunities in the coming surge of tourists

Genevie Langner, Marketing Manager, Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront. Image: Supplied.

Genevie Langner, Marketing Manager, Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront. Image: Supplied.

Published Mar 21, 2024


By Genevie Langner, Marketing Manager, Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront

The southern-hemisphere seasonal calendar makes South Africa a particularly attractive destination from those fleeing winter in the global north and as the country braces for a significant increase in international travellers in 2024, the question of how to prepare becomes paramount for the tourism and hospitality industry.

With the expected arrival of millions of tourists, building on the substantial 51.8% increase seen at the end of 2023, it’s clear that the post-pandemic surge in tourist numbers is far from over.

This resurgence offers a lifeline to many businesses within the sector that suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it also presents a set of challenges that need to be addressed to ensure that the boom in tourism does not become a bane.

One of the main concerns is overtourism. This phenomenon, which involves a greater number of visitors than the destination can handle, has significant negative impacts. It can disrupt the lives of locals, inflate prices and harm the environment, highlighting the need for sustainable tourism practices – which is good for business as well. A 2022 survey revealed that over 80% of global travellers consider sustainable tourism important and are willing to adopt sustainable travel incentives; clearly, the future of tourism lies in sustainability.

To navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by the expected increase in tourists, it is crucial that businesses in the tourism and hospitality industry adopt a multifaceted approach. First, capacity building is essential – ensure that there are enough well-trained staff to handle the numbers. A negative experience can quickly tarnish a business’s reputation, especially in the age of social media where bad news travels fast.

Investing in digital assets is another key strategy. Digital support systems and contactless check-in facilities not only streamline the process but also allow you to gather guests’ data and use it to tailor services to individual preferences, enhancing their overall experience. Having a robust digital infrastructure will mitigate inconvenience and improve overall satisfaction, especially during peak periods.

It’s also time to re-evaluate commercial approaches. Booking behaviour and travel preferences have changed radically in the past decade. Businesses must be agile, tapping into every available source of insight to understand demand and optimise pricing. Flexible pricing models can provide reassurance to customers, accommodating the possibility of last-minute changes to travel plans.

Understanding and catering to the specific needs of customers by differentiating services and personalising experiences is also important. Data plays a crucial role in achieving this, enabling businesses to make lasting impressions and strengthen guest relations. Online travel agents, with their wealth of data, can be invaluable partners in this effort.

Identifying and enhancing key touchpoints in the guest journey is essential. Every interaction, from check-in to check-out, contributes to the overall experience. Educating and empowering employees to improve these interactions is vital. Regular training sessions can equip staff with the skills and knowledge they need to handle increased demand effectively.

Automating redundant tasks can also free up employees’ time, allowing them to focus on aspects of their job that directly impact guest satisfaction. In a crowded market, personalisation can set a business apart. Consumers value personalised experiences and are more likely to remain loyal to brands that cater to their preferences.

Effective communication is key to managing an influx of guests – both external communication with guests and internal communication among staff. Ensuring that everyone is on the same page is critical for maintaining high service standards. This can be as simple as letting guests know ahead of time what local norms to expect, from mealtimes to cultural quirks and common courtesies.

Finally, adding ‘Instagrammable’ extras can make a destination even more desirable. Offering local experiences like game drives, township visits, museum outings and wine tours enriches the tourist experience and promotes sustainable tourism by encouraging visitors to engage respectfully with the culture and natural beauty of South Africa.

Preparing for the 2024 increase in international travellers requires a comprehensive strategy that emphasises sustainability, capacity building, digital innovation, personalisation and effective communication. By adopting these approaches, the tourism and hospitality industry in South Africa can not only accommodate the expected influx but also ensure that the boom in tourism benefits both visitors and the local community in a sustainable and responsible manner.

Genevie Langner, Marketing Manager, Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront. Image: Supplied.