South Africa's Digital Strategy

South Africa’s digital strategy mainly focuses on four key areas in terms of what the National Tourist Board is working on.

The Digital Marketing Strategy

First of all, Tourism South Africa is focusing on the fact that “Travel is Social”. This means that travellers worldwide love to talk about where they have been, where they are going and the things they are planning to do at the destination.

The Digital Marketing Strategy

South Africa’s digital strategy mainly focuses on four key areas in terms of what the National Tourist Board is working on.

First of all, Tourism South Africa is focusing on the fact that “Travel is Social”. This means that travellers worldwide love to talk about where they have been, where they are going and the things they are planning to do at the destination. This process is aspirational and it is absolutely crucial in today’s digital age to pay attention to what is being said. Without paying attention a Tourist Board can lose the plot easily.

Secondly, the social media revolution cannot be ignored. In the last couple of years, social media became increasingly important for Tourist Boards worldwide due to its popularity with consumers. Social media can have a big impact on a destination.

Thirdly, the consumer is the centre of attention for Tourist Boards. Understanding the consumer is vital, meaning the consumer cannot be ignored. If a Tourist Board does not understand the consumers, it will lead to an opportunity being missed.

Fourthly, digital marketing is all about engagement not only on social media but also through mobile devices. For today’s consumers, it is all happening on their mobile devices.

Lastly, the overall aim of a Tourist Board is to find a way to engage with consumers. For South Africa, it is important to keep in mind that it is a long-haul destination.

All of these five areas are seen as key to South Africa’s digital marketing strategy and need to be handled properly in order to guarantee that their work is effective.

Digital as one Priority

Digital is seen as an important part of the overall Strategy but it took South Africa four years to come to that conclusion. According to the UNWTO, about 90% of all travel decisions are made online. This shows the significance of a digital marketing strategy for a Tourist Board. However, making this transition can be difficult for DMOs.

The world has changed rapidly over the last few years and a lot of Tourist Boards have some catching up to do. Tourism South Africa was very fortunate with the Soccer World Cup in 2010 as it became evident that digital is a forward-thinking way that cannot be ignored by any Tourist Board. The whole organisation needs to understand that digital is a way to supplement and complement the things a Tourist Board is doing. It is not about replacing other marketing strategies with digital! Providing the entire organization with this understanding can take some time in order to make the transition and hard work.

Development of Brand South Africa

Throughout the years, Tourism South Africa has developed and changed and particularly with the World Cup, moved to a more digital strategy. At the same time, the brand itself changed and developed.

Every six months, Tourism South Africa is doing a lot of brand tracking aiming to track the brand’s performance in the key markets. Having offices in South Africa’s key markets, it is important to look at the destination’s performance very closely. Over the last years, especially after the World Cup, Tourism South Africa experienced a huge increase in terms of positivity and brand awareness. The main challenge, however, is to turn this positivity and awareness into actual arrivals. All marketing activities aim to increase the number of arrivals at the end of the day. If no impact can be calculated in terms of arrival figures, it is not worth investing more time and attention into it.

Extract of South Africa's Strategy - Key Roles and Responsibility

Digital Performance Measurement

From a global perspective, Tourism South Africa has to do two jobs. This is very important to understand. To support the branding and awareness of South Africa, the Tourist Board has to pull the positivity related to the destination. There are a few issues in terms of consumer perceptions about South Africa. It is widely perceived as too far away, too expensive and not particularly safe.

Within the key markets, attention needs to be drawn to shifting the positivity to actual conversions. The campaign support, Tourism South Africa is offering in the form of online, social media and digital, has to drive towards arrivals and selling tickets. If no value in form of additional tickets and arrivals is achieved, the entire focus of the campaign needs to change in order to get more people coming into the country at the end of the day.

Globally, Tourism South Africa can closely look at the messaging and making sure that the branding gets done correctly. Looking at South Africa’s online reputation management is a completely different job. Most of the Tourist Board’s time and energy is really spent on driving the interest and getting people to seek information and actually making the decision to come to South Africa. Partnering with trade is one way of being able to do that as the Tourist Board is not doing any transactions themselves. In the 11 different target countries, Tourism South Africa cannot sell the destination in the same way and expect the same results. Each market needs to be looked at individually in order to understand the different language and brand perceptions. This is crucial as ignoring these things will result in fewer people arriving at the destination, which is not South Africa’s goal.

South Africa as a Destination

For Tourism South Africa, marketing the destination is both extremely difficult and extremely easy.

Consumers’ positive perceptions can help the destination to:

  • Amplify good stuff about South Africa
  • Spark curiosity
  • Make consumers consider South Africa as a holiday destination

As a long-haul destination, Tourism South Africa is not aiming to convince travellers that are planning a trip to the UK or Spain to go to South Africa for a holiday. The real trick of the Tourism Board is to make people understand that it is possible to have all kinds of different experiences because of the unique combinations that are possible when going to South Africa. Experiencing a safari in South Africa is completely different to any other Safari in Africa.

South Africa's website: Selling the South African Experience

Another major way of distinguishing themselves further from other holiday destinations is by communicating as sophisticated as possible. At trade shows, South Africa focuses on the use of the latest touch screen table technologies. The global messaging used by the Tourist Board is very high gloss and well crafted. This is very important for Tourism South Africa.

In terms of the destination, Tourism South Africa’s job is fairly easy as there is so much in one place and the destination already provides an exceptional amount of value.

Challenges and Obstacles

One of South Africa’s major challenges is to break consumer perceptions that are already in place and re-educating people about what the country has to offer.

Other obstacles for South Africa:

  • Getting sidetracked and too many daily obstacles
  • Look at things over 6 months or yearly to see progress being made
  • Stakeholder Management is crucial
  • Constant lobbying for budget
  • Planning and strategy of an 18 months time horizon
  • Budgets/ marketing plans cannot take into consideration unexpected things
  • High bureaucracy makes quick shifts impossible
  • Tourist Board cannot be as agile as needed
  • For consumers, these things are not relevant
  • Challenge of making DMO understand their consumers
  • South Africa is constantly playing catch-up

Key Takeaways


  • Constant lobbying for budget and high bureaucracy.
  • Break consumer perceptions and re-educate people about the destination.
  • South Africa is constantly playing catch-up.


  • Continuous branding efforts
  • Messages about vast experiences that are possible
  • The consumer is the centre of attention
  • Digital is seen as a priority

Published on:
March 2012
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