Letters from Africa 2023


John Cockayne – Destination Golf Travel’s ‘man’ in the SAIO region – Southern Africa & the Indian Ocean Islands.

Ref: Letters from Africa 2023, by John Cockayne.
By John Cockayne

I was talking to a colleague, who is based in the United Kingdom, recently about travel trends, in terms of who is going where, and to do what.

The plusses that emerged from this discussion, were how positively people view South Africa, in both general tourism and golf tourism terms – this despite the Boks having spoiled the chances of two of the Northern Hemisphere’s ‘hopes’, at the recent Rugby World Cup!

As we were not talking about backpackers, there was a caveat to this, in that the ‘enthusiasm’ could be become dimmed (excuse the pun!), if South Africa did not address its energy crisis meaningfully. He felt that the occasional dinner by candlelight, during a vacation, would be very pleasant, but not as a continual experience throughout a trip!

He also felt, as most of us here do, that the energy crisis will take a team effort to find a permanent solution.

At this point we should all spare a thought, and a prayer, for both the Ukraine and Gaza, where what might be a much-despised candle in many places, will be seen as a godsend to many in these two countries for the rest of 2023, and quite possibly beyond.

The concept of ‘team’ is not readily associated with golf, which is a particularly individual sporting pursuit – ‘lonely’ was the description a non-golfing friend of mine once used.

However, to compete effectively at a global level, this is just what golf tourism needs, in a marketing sense, to achieve its goals of presenting South Africa as a golf destination effectively – teamwork!

During 2022 and 2023, both Durban Tourism and Tourism Kwa-Zulu-Natal teamed up with my network, which naturally includes Destination Golf Travel and various golf media ‘partners’, which cover the UK, Ireland, Europe, Australasia and the Pacific Rim, to start this journey.

There is a further caveat, in that it cannot just be a marketing effort in isolation either, but must involve a commitment to continuous activity, and embed calls to action, to enable people to travel to and interact with the region.

During 2022, we put various opportunities to travel in place in the form of golf tours, and aligned these products with Southern Suns, as the ‘pouring brand’ for accommodation, and with Fairways to Africa (FTA), as the TO, to handle the booking and travel logistics.

During an interview with BG Magazine, Cale Jansen the CEO and founder of FTA commented as follows:
I was in a meeting (in 2022) with Damian Wrigley at Pearl Valley, and during our discussions Destination Golf Travel Magazine, the calls to action with various tours, and Golf Staycations (which combine distressed or off-peak product inventories from hotels and adjacent golf courses) that you were working on came up, and just sounded like a perfect fit to how we see operating, both in local and international terms.
I think that you the see the need for SA golf tourism to have an international shop window, and for the golf travel sector to be both proactive and ‘different’, so there was match there too in strategic terms. From a marketing perspective, the reach you have created with the platform you have developed, was very exciting.

Cale Jansen, CEO and Founder of Fairways to Africa. working for the DP World Tour in Mauritius – December 2022.

In promoting golf tourism, we also need to think about what potential advantages the golf tourism market can bring to both South Africa and more broadly speaking, Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands (my beat as DGT’s regional representative), especially in terms of our environmental commitments, because going forward this is really going to be the elephant in the room – possibly quite literally in our case here in Southern Africa!
On a personal level, I see two key factors in play here:
Golf is a sport, which has the advantage (especially if we can promote regions like Kwa-Zulu Natal as a family vacation destination, which it is – just ask Gauteng, from which more than half of its population empties out to KwaZulu-Natal’s Indian Ocean coast every December!), where the per head spend will be higher, than that generated by the ‘average’ tourist.

King Shaka International Airport in the green fields of KwaZulu-Natal’s North Coast, and just a short drive to Durban, offers a perfect gateway to golf in the Zulu Kingdom and beyond (c/o NCC Environmental Services).

Given our infrastructure, and ‘thin’ resources (especially in terms of water) in Southern Africa, and the environmental impact of each tourist being pretty much the same, we should think very carefully about promoting ourselves, as a ‘mass tourism’ destination, and rather see ourselves as one where yield, and not volume, is the King!

In terms of yield, I have recently been asking the rhetorical question – do we, as a regional destination, want to attract 10 travellers who spend 5 Rand per day each, or 5 travellers who spend 50 Rand per day each?!
The second factor refers directly to this last point, and right into the heartland of the need to lower carbon emissions, reduce our impact on the environment, etc.

Any destination that is seen to be being ‘inventive’, by it finding, and developing, higher spending niches, which help to reduce the impacts of global travel, and protect the environment, will be seen in a very favourable light, and jump right up the pecking order in terms of PR, acceptance, and a host of other positives.

The good news is that if you stop to look around, there are many excellent examples where cities, regions and venues have teamed up to initiate a joint promotion, and examples that come to mind are Madrid, Catalonia and Scotland.

If Scotland believes hat it needs to promote itself, as a golf destination, then it is fair warning to other regions, with much less golf history, that when you fail to market, or take your foot off this activity’s ‘pedal’, you do so at your peril!

In the broader environmental context, one of the core purposes behind a particular tour we are developing, will be to raise funds continually for wildlife protection, and help to safeguard this vital regional asset, and in the process create an ongoing revenues’ turnstile.

As a marketer, I am particularly excited about this initiative, because this will give the opportunity to sell a golf tour to ‘normal’ people, and make them eco-ambassadors, because a portion of each package’s revenues will be given to saving the region’s wildlife heritage. In addition, each traveller will leave with a certificate, or medal, to take home, to London, New York or Paris, as proof!

Where do the golf facilities fit into all of this?

Well, my final thoughts would be that this will apply to every country, county, state, province or region with golf assets, including places like Durban and Kwa-Zulu Natal.

For the rest, and as background, an estate GM in Gauteng (which has the best conditioned courses in the country – it’s just the climatic conditions!), was telling me how much more golf tourism traffic he felt, the region should be getting.

My response was – ‘Why should you get any at all, if you don’t tell anyone what you have to offer?’ – with which comment, he sheepishly agreed.

Why should you get any at all, if you don’t tell anyone what you have to offer?

Eagle Canyon Golf & Lifestyle Estate – home to one of Gauteng’s many magnificently conditioned golf courses.

In this same scenario, there are often two sub-themes at play everywhere in this region.

The first sees too many tourism bodies missing the value of golf as a key, and high yielding per capita tourism niche, and it is one in which they think that the golf is the sole purpose, when actually it is not. The niche market opens the opportunity to attract higher spending travellers, who like to vacation, have families, and who also just happen to play golf!

This also plays into two ‘mantras’, which we use continually in our communications. The first is ‘don’t just pack the clubs, bring the family too!
To amplify the family aspect of the vacation opportunities here, the second is – ‘this region has so much to offer to non-golfers that if you go out for a day to play golf, the family might not even notice that you have gone!

The second sub-theme, is one wherein too many golf clubs believe that this type of marketing is the sole responsibility of the tourism bodies!

I have pointed out to the golf sector, on numerous occasions, that when golf is just a rib on the umbrella of any region’s complete tourism ‘package’ that needs to be looked after, just sitting back and expecting the tourism bodies, to pay the green fee, carry the bag and hit the shots is patently ludicrous!

See you in Africa soon!

Arabella Golf Hotel & Spa and the perfect entrée to golf in South Africa’s Western Cape.