Sthu Zungu, President of South Africa Tourism, North America

Although ASTA’s 2009 International Destination Expo in Sun City, South Africa is a little ways down the road—well, March, actually—I recently took the opportunity to chat with Sthu Zungu, president of South Africa Tourism, North America, about U.S. travel to South Africa, what hosting this event means for the country, and the destination’s long-term goals.

An American in South Africa

Zungu says The United States has become a very important market for South Africa tourism, second only to the United Kingdom, which currently holds the number-one spot.

Why? According to Zungu, Americans are big spenders and there are a lot of them. In fact, the current state of the U.S. economy doesn’t even appear to be an unnerving factor. “Although the current economic climate is a bit jittery,” Zungu says, “it is more about the volume than the spending.” That volume weighed in at about 276,000 visitors last year, so “you can take the sheer volume times the average spent from tourism overall, and it is still a good thing.”

Although Americans might not be spending as much, they can still get more bang for their buck when opting for a vacation to South Africa over, say, a European holiday. Last month, the exchange rate was $1 to 11 South African rand—a favorable number and one Zungu says agents and consumers should take advantage of ASAP.

What to Expect at IDE   

“Hosting this event is a unique opportunity to showcase the warm and welcoming hospitality of the South African people and the wide variety of product,” Zungu says, adding that she wants agents to “get” the destination. She projects that approximately 700 agents will have that chance at the event next year— the largest number of agents in South Africa at one time. These agents will walk away not only “getting” what South Africa has to offer but specializing in selling the country. “Those who attend IDE will take part in a Fundi, or specialist, program,” Zungu says. It is a program she expects 600 to 700 agents to complete within a three-day span.

Not just a training boot camp, the event also serves as the opportunity for agents to meet with South African suppliers. “They will come away with real people, real names and real products,” Zungu says. Tangible example: A trade show is part of the International Destination Expo and South African Airways, along with several other suppliers, will be present at the show. Tour operators are also offering pre- and post-tours of the nine provinces, which start at $150 per person.

Long-Term Goals

As one could imagine, making sure IDE is a success is the most important thing on South Africa’s agenda at the moment. But, after the dust settles, the country will turn its attention to hosting the World Cup in 2010. And, to mark the event, the destination has set a goal of having 2010 South Africa specialists by that year. Well on its way, 840 agents have enrolled in the program and there have been 140 graduates. “If we do a good job at training, we have longevity in the market,” Zungu says, adding that the destination plans to continue engagement and conversation with agents because they hear what consumers are saying.

As far as advertising ventures are concerned, the country currently has campaigns running to promote the aspects of South Africa that would appeal to the adventure travelers as well as the wide variety of food and wine offerings in the country.

With trade marketing, key players South Africa is involved with are Virtuoso, Luxury Travel Expo (together with South African Airways), American Express, and of course it will continue to nurture its relationship with ASTA.

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