Phindile Makwakwa, the acting chief executive of Tourism KwaZulu-Natal, believes that BRICS could play an important role for the province’s tourism expansion.
DURBAN - Today's new travellers are boosting tourism and it is important for South African hospitality businesses to realise exactly who the tourists are and what they want 

Tourism is the one sector that experiences changing trends and expectations and that is what makes the industry so exciting. Keeping up with the trends is vital if we want to attract more international visitors.

Right now, it is the millennial generation which has the power and is influencing what tourism will look like in future. 

This market is the new gold, with millennials spending about US$200-billion on travel annually, according to Forbes magazine. That figure is expected to increase significantly in the coming years.

This is the generation that the industry will be hosting over the next decades, so as other experts have pointed out, our strategies must be informed by their wants.

This is also the generation that travels far more regularly than their parents and grandparents.

Digitalisation plays an important role in their lives and millennials do not make a move or a booking without going online and checking out reviews to see what others have to say about a destination before making a decision about where to go on holiday.

Research has shown that millennials care less about where they sleep and more about what they will experience when they get to their destination.

Global companies are starting to use virtual reality technology to help prospective travellers get a better feel of what to expect before they get to a destination.

Tourism KZN has embraced the technology and offers a virtual reality experience to visitors at our consumer shows and activations that we stage around the country to give people a feel of the adventures and experiences they can explore when they visit our province.

Once millennials have done their research and arrived at their chosen destination, you can guarantee that, armed with the latest gadgets, they will post pictures, selfies and opinions about their holidays, good or bad. Thus tourism businesses cannot let their standards drop-and neither should they-otherwise the world will hear all about it.

There are some voices predicting that drone photography will be the next trend used by travellers.

Other trends that the industry should pay attention to are the digital nomads and social media influencers; entrepreneurs who make money from their computers and backpacks and who have an army of followers. If a digital nomad likes your experience, they are likely to tell others and the word will spread throughout their community.

The advice for this sector of the industry is to be friendly to the nomads and they will be friendly to you.

Eco-tourism, which promotes sustainability, is still an extremely popular trend and there are some tourists - particularly international travelers - who will only stay in “green” accommodation.

Eco-tourism involves responsible travel to natural areas where the environment is conserved and assistance is given to local people. Tourists want to visit destinations where the local community can benefit mthe ost from the money they bring in.

This is beneficial to those businesses that make it a habit of empowering their local communities.

As the tourism industry is increasingly expected to respect the environment and its biodiversity, as well as the people, local traditions and culture, tour operators who want to attract this market should be thinking of ways to bring sustainability to the forefront of their various offers. 

Wellness travel has also become a growing trend and tourism businesses can take advantage of it. And they don’t necessarily have to be a resort or a spa either. Businesses can offer walking and cycling routes, even healthy cooking courses as a way of promoting a healthier lifestyle. A local yoga instructor can give early-morning lessons.

Then there is the international Airbnb experience, which enables travels to stay in private homes. With the recent introduction of the global “experiences”, travellers are also able to be shown around a new destination by a local person. This enables them to travel like a local and have a more authentic experience in a new location.

As you will note, trends are constantly changing and if the industry is to remain relevant, we need to constantly re-align our business and marketing approach to attract a greater number of tourists.

Phindile Makwakwa is the Acting CEO of Tourism KZN. 

- BUSINESS REPORT