SUCCESSFUL business leaders will tell you that to stay afloat in this volatile business environment is all about keeping your balance, staying on your feet when external pressures try to knock yo
u over or instead, using those forces to make your own winning move.
To borrow from football metaphors, goal posts keep moving. In business you have to plan for a disaster because it is going to happen.
Let me start my series with a seemingly scathing attack on the tourism industry as it finds itself in the doldrums. Not so long ago the tourism industry was blossoming with flourishing results riding on the back of a healthy economy and prosperous relations with the international community. No one saw a need to develop and grow the local and regional market. There was widespread complacency and an over reliance on the international market.
Although government for some time started advocating for the industry to develop and grow their domestic tourism the call fell on deaf ears. The product and pricing structure was heavily skewed towards the international market. One wonders why the business leaders of the day did not see the need for developing and growing the domestic market.
In business it is always prudent to expect the unexpected. Land reform and September 11 came and the rest I guess is history.
Even after being caught with their pants down the industry continued to invest their meagre resources into the international markets. I am not at all saying that this market should have been abandoned but that there was a need for a paradigm shift in our marketing approach. For a long time the industry failed to appreciate the significance of domestic tourism. Countries that have made remarkable strides in their tourism sector have adopted a deliberate strategy to grow their home base before venturing into uncharted foreign markets.
The desire to earn foreign currency has always been the cornerstone of the industry strategy. Consequently most businesses have been struggling to break even. Ideally, a good operation should be able to meet all its running costs from the local market and if it gets any foreign business that would be the icing on the cake.
It took the industry a long time to realise and accept that the traditional markets such as Europe, USA and in particular UK had become a fad of the month and no meaningful business was going to come from these markets in the near future – except the occasional once-off influx such as the Solar Eclipse.
There was a need to identify new markets and the industry made another monumental blunder. Focus moved to Asia and Japan. Agreeable, Asia offers the best opportunity as a new market but the same constraints Europe was facing were also affecting Asia. Regrettably the regional and local market was still not regarded as providing the best opportunity for a quick recovery. If one asks any of the industry technocrats they all agree that it takes an average of 3-4 years to see a recovery from the international market and a fairly shorter turn around period from the regional and local market. But still no effort was made to revamp these two markets.
South Africa provided the easiest platform to access the regional market. Sadly there was no meaningful representation in that critical market. ZTA had no substantial representation in South Africa until recently. In fact they assigned the other international markets with representatives ahead of South Africa. South Africa is currently the regional harbour of tourism.
Gurus in marketing talk about marketing judo. Judo is about using mental and physical energy than just brute force or big budgets. The principle of judo is simple – if one pushes, you should pull.
If you decide to push back you should ensure the power balance is in your favour. I recommend we use this phenomenon in our daily social, political and economic life.
When tourism in Zimbabwe started to decline, big brother South Africa became the prime focus. South Africa with its developed tourism network started to penetrate the regional and international market. South Africa had the resources and know-how to penetrate the local, regional and international markets.
They began selling our prime attraction Victoria Falls as their own. The campaign was simple “come to South Africa and experience the Victoria Falls”.
South Africa has a widespread network of suppliers reaching out to the whole of Europe, Asia, USA and Africa and a well-developed communications and air network. A judo master levers on the strength of others – going with the pull not resisting it. Partnering with South Africa would have provided the industry with the strength of a competitor to our advantage. It is a known fact in marketing that using the strengths of a partner can save fortunes that would otherwise be needed to get to one’s target market.
Linking a product concept or a destination to a more famous destination can be a fast and more cost effective way to build a market for your own destination. South Africa is a more preferred destination at the moment than Zimbabwe. I am however encouraged by the recent initiatives such as “Welcome to Victoria Falls” which are great steps towards the judo marketing principle albeit long overdue.
Norman Moyo is the Cresta Hospitality Group Sales and Marketing manager.