Thulisile Galelekile on How KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa Approaches Destination Marketing

Thulisile Galelekile is the General Manager (Marketing) in charge of developing and implementing destination marketing strategies for the coastal South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. In this interview she shares her thoughts on destination marketing, especially the trends and challenges affecting her daily work.

Thulisile, if you had to introduce KwaZulu-Natal in the length of a tweet – what would you say?

Renowned for its warm people and climate as well as breath-taking scenery, KwaZulu-Natal has experiences for everyone. From a 600km long coast line flanked by the warm Indian Ocean, to the towering peaks and passes of the mighty Drakensberg mountain range, KwaZulu-Natal truly is an unparalleled playground for visitors and locals alike. You will enjoy the enthralling landscapes that tell of cultures present and past, a place that is also home to some of Africa’s greatest safari experiences.

What does a typical day look like in the life of a destination marketer?

For  a destination marketer, no day is the same. This job is about forging relationships with trade, tour operators, consumers and other key players in the tourism value chain, in order to ensure that the destination remains top of mind with these key stakeholders.

A day can also see the destination manager travelling to various places to train travel agents so that they are able to sell the destination with great authority. It also entails meeting with airline representatives, accommodation providers and experience providers to work out specials in order to entice consumers to visit the destination.

This is an extremely exciting and challenging role that keeps you constantly on the road, in order to drive awareness of the destination and to encourage consumers to visit your destination.

In your view, what is destination marketing all about?

Destination marketing is about engaging with key players in order to drive awareness of the destination, thereby driving interest so that people visit the destination. It is about finding creative ways of communicating the destination’s value proposition, therefore creating the reason for people to visit your destination.

Which aspects of your destination marketing work at Tourism KwaZulu-Natal do you find the most challenging?

The aspect I find most challenging has to do with dealing with negative perceptions of the destination that impact tourist arrivals. This has real impact and requires careful managing so that one is able to give an honest view, without frightening people away from the destination.

Which trends do you observe in destination marketing? Where are we headed?

  • There is an increasing reliance on peer reviews, which makes it critical to have an ear on the ground to listen to what people are saying when they review the destination. Digital platforms are going to become more and more important in the tourism sector.
  • Consumers are increasingly looking for destinations that combine sustainability and tourism. Responsible tourism is gaining momentum. Trends such as airline shaming are changing the face of tourism.
  • Consumers are increasingly looking for simple, authentic experiences. Gone are the days where everything is staged. Today’s visitors want to feel that they are immersing themselves in the lives of the people they are visiting, whilst giving back to them.
  • Virtual reality experiences are gaining momentum, as consumers rely on these to be able to make a decision about visiting a destination. Destination marketers need to incorporate this as part of their strategy.
  • Influencers play a critical role in destination marketing now. However, it’s no longer about those with massive following. For instance, the year 2018 saw the rise of micro-influencer marketing, which means targeting influencers with smaller, specific audiences, instead of influencers with larger, broader audiences. This is because the first often achieve higher engagement rates, which in turn leads to better conversion.

You are also an active entrepreneur and businesswoman. How do you involve local communities and businesses in your branding and marketing strategies at KwaZulu Natal province?

  • As KwaZulu-Natal we participate in a lot of platforms, both locally and internationally. We ensure that SMME in the tourism sector are given access to markets through the exposure they get from participating at these platforms. For every platform we attend, such as trade and consumer shows, we ensure that at least two SMME get to attend these platforms, therefore giving them access to patrons that attend these shows. A lot of them have been able to get business as a result of this exposure.
  • Through the Tourism Development unit, as well as the Durban Convention Bureau, training is provided to SSMEs. This equips them with skills that will see them make inroads in the tourism space.

Durban, your province’s capital, in 2011 was in the global spotlight as host of the UN Climate Change Conference. How has the event impacted the city and region, from a community identity and branding point of view?

Events such as a UN Climate Change conference really put your destination in the spotlight, as they showcase your capabilities as a destination. The conference drew 12 480 participants, including over 5400 government officials, 5800 representatives of UN bodies and agencies, intergovernmental organizations and civil society, and more than 1200 members of the media. These got to experience our destination through the exposure which they got from attending the conference, as well as through pre- and post-conference tours, that allow them to have first-hand experience of the attractions the destination has on offer.

Aside from the economic impact that such events have on the city and the province, the Climate Change Summit really did a great job of turning attendees into ambassadors for our province: they became our word of mouth advocates in their respective countries, thus indirectly selling the province by sharing their experiences. That’s why it is so important to always put your best foot forward so that conference attendants have great experience.

How important is a city or region’s environmental performance and climate leadership for its competitiveness and attractiveness as destination?

Climate change has increasingly attracted tourist attention in the past decade, because tourism is likely to be affected both by climate change itself and by policies implemented to address it.

Climate change can result in extreme weather events, such as drought, floods, heavy snow, hailstorms, extreme cold, wild fires, heat waves, extreme fog and mist, and many more. All of these have a huge influence on the tourism industry. Therefore it is critical for any destination to have strategies in place to deal with the climate crisis, in order to ensure that they are resilient and ahead of the game.

More and more of us are now aware that climate changes have been affected by the way we behave and treat our environment. The rise of sustainability movements is a direct response to this dynamic.

Travelers are becoming increasingly conscious of environmental issues, such as the climate crisis. Destinations which are seen to be proactive in dealing with such issues are gaining, in terms of their attractiveness.

Imagine a student of destination marketing approaches you at a conference, asking for your career advice. What would you tell her? What does it take to get a foot into the sector?

To get a foot into the sector it is critical that you are curious, interested in learning about destinations and their drivers, and be knowledgeable on this.

You must have a passion for people, as most of your work as destination marketer is about people engagement.

Be versatile in terms of your areas of interest and be prepared to start at the very bottom.

More than anything else, have a proactive mindset! Don’t wait to be called for interviews, go out there and expose yourself by volunteering your services, in order to learn the trade and therefore get into that industry.

Thank you, Thulisile.

Our interview with Thulisile Galelekile is part of a special series in collaboration with the 2019 South Africa Brand Forum, organized by Brand South Africa, the official custodian of South Africa’s nation brand.


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