The tourism sector faced a difficult year in 2020. The hope that 2021 would be better was challenged from the start, by increasing infection rates and more lockdown restrictions. However, Dr Nomvuselelo Songelwa (pictured above), the CEO of travel and tourism data management company Jurni, believes that the year ahead presents many new opportunities for SMMEs working in this space.
“While change and uncertainty is terrifying – especially for those who saw their incomes disappear in 2020 – it’s important for SMMEs to identify the opportunities and grab hold of them where they can.”
She says, “Socially-distanced travel, safe travel and more conscious and sustainable travel are here to stay. And while change and uncertainty is terrifying – especially for those who saw their incomes disappear in 2020 – it’s important for SMMEs to identify the opportunities and grab hold of them where they can.”
She encourages tourism SMMEs to focus on the following five strategies to rebuild their businesses for the future:
1. First, reflect
Dr Songelwa highlights that all tourism businesses need to be mindful of the new context in which we now find ourselves. Travel restrictions are likely to be a challenge across the globe for the foreseeable future. Therefore, it makes sense that businesses focus on the domestic tourism market for now.
Be mindful of the new context in which we now operate.
Additionally, health and safety must be prioritised. The Department of Tourism recently released a draft of the new Tourism Act: National norms and standards for the safe operations of tourism sector in the context of COVID-19 and beyond. Dr Songelwa recommends all tourism businesses familiarise themselves with the document and the safety protocols they should be implementing to protect their staff and customers. (You can access the draft Act here).
2. Identify your niche
Next, identify your niche. In a post-pandemic world, travellers are more likely to want to avoid crowded attractions and large tourists groups. Instead, they’ll opt for getaways that promote social distancing, such as off-the-beaten track destinations, small group tours, solo travel, private transport, and specialised escapes like birding tours, glamping, slack-packing hikes, photography holidays and biking adventures.
An advantage with niche travel packages is that price is less of a barrier to gaining clients, as most travellers are willing to pay for the exclusivity of what is on offer.
3. Keep it digital
Another consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic is that it has pushed businesses to operate online even more, as it’s safe, convenient and an easy way to stay connected.
“Today’s travellers are 100% online. SMMEs need to look closely at their online marketing initiatives and booking processes. From enquiry, to booking and payment it should be as seamless as possible,” says Dr Songelwa.
“SMMEs need to look closely at their online marketing initiatives and booking processes. From enquiry, to booking and payment it should be as seamless as possible.”
She adds, “The new Jurni booking platform allows smaller players to extend their reach by putting them in front of a wider audience and we’re committed to working closely with SMMEs so they can use technology to remain connected, relevant and visible.” You can find out more about Jurni here.
4. Get social
Social media platforms are an important source of information for travellers, especially in terms of being able to access reviews, photos and sharing first-hand experiences from other travellers.
Now is the time to learn about social media and develop a social media marketing strategy. There are many free resources online to help do this. Then, take the plunge. Start posting – share behind-the-scenes stories, photos of your product, details about what else can be done in the area, what you are doing to be safe for travel, and so on. Encourage reviews. Create your own hashtag. Try different things to see what works.
5. Stay connected
Being an SMME is hard and it can be lonely. But you are not alone. Many others are in the same position as you. Reach out to them and see if you can help each other, for example by joining forces to create a tourism route.
“More than that, join a tourism association, ask questions and share knowledge. Let 2021 be a year of opportunity and growth,” adds Dr Songelwa.