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Breaking Travel News interview: Sisa Ntshona, chief executive, South African Tourism

Breaking Travel News interview: Sisa Ntshona, chief executive, South African Tourism

Newly appointed South Africa Tourism chief executive Sisa Ntshona took time our during the successful Indaba 2017 to discuss the state of sector in the destination.

He began by looking back at South African Tourism’s previous marketing campaign: “Someone reminded me earlier that the secret weapon of Africa is its people.

“That is why ‘I am Africa’ was such a great campaign.

“People have got to be involved - we are trying to drive ownership.

“Because tourism has almost been misunderstood, people saw it as a kind of arm’s-length experience.

“Many people seem to think they don’t work in tourism, actually they do; just a smile could be your contribution.

“We want to engender a sense of personal responsibility and pride.”

This message is at the heart of the new We Do Tourism campaign.

Announced by South Africa president Jacob Zuma during the opening ceremony of Indaba 2017, the campaign seeks to involve local South Africans in the hospitality sector.

Discussing Zuma’s presence at the show, Ntshona adds: “I think that was a great message, not only to the world but more especially to local South Africans. 

“We need other aspects of government to come on board.

“From visas, for example, to transport and safety and security, the message is inclusive of all of the different ministries.

“We want them to carry on doing the fantastic job that they do but through the lens of tourism.”

With limited resources, Ntshona also pointed to the importance of finding a balance when investing in source markets.

“We take an analytical view,” he continues.

“We looked at where to invest our resources and filtered it down to about 35 markets.

“It always becomes a trade-off; do you focus on few big ones and invest quite a lot or do you spread yourself too thin and not make an impact?

“You don’t want to find you have too much concentration on one and then something happens to your key source market.

“The top three outside of Africa are the UK, Germany and US. 

“Although, 70 per cent of our arrivals are from the continent, within Africa.”

He is quick to add: “All of our source markets are different, there is no one campaign that we continue across all of them.

“We set the theme and the pace and then the local interpretation is done by the in-country teams that we have.”


Ntshona continues: “We do have some new growth markets which are starting to pick up quite nicely.

“In the Middle East and Asia there is a lot of potential and also around China, which we need to give a bit more energy and focus to.

“If you want to be taken as a serious player in Asia you need to make sure that your facilities cater to the market, that we have signage in Mandarin, that your tour guides speak Mandarin. 

“At the moment we need to ramp up our capacity.

“Our ultimate goal is to improve visitor arrivals.

“Tourism is very important to us because we understand that the more tourists we have the better our economy does.

“The better our economy does the better the prosperity of everyone in the country.”


Visas have for some time been a vexed issue for South Africa.

Since June 2015 all minors are required to produce an unabridged birth certificate to gain access to the country – a barrier some private operators have argued has damaged the industry.

Ntshona discusses this controversial issue, saying: “We have been a leader when it comes to human rights, protection of women’s rights and civil liberties.

“What triggered this was a concern around child trafficking.

“We put in very stringent requirements.

“We still don’t want to lose that element of protecting children’s rights but at the same time we want the economy to run, so it’s finding the right balance.”

South African Airways

South African Airways, too, has caused concerns for the hospitality sector.

The government-owned carrier has had a troubled decade and reported a R4.5billion loss in the last financial year.

When asked if he thought the carrier’s survival was important to the country, Ntshona replies: “Oh absolutely!

“However, the government need to quickly decide the mandate of the airline: is it a profit-making commercial airline and, if so, it will behave like any other airline and seek to maximise profit.

“Or are you going to use SAA as a tool to drive business and tourism in to South Africa?

“They want to find a technical equity partner and they are talking about listing.

“But before you list you have to build a profit check record for people to consider the legacy around it, so we need to make a decision.”


Turning to accommodation and in some cases South Africa has been a victim of its own success.

When asked about the stretch on bed capacity in tourism hub Cape Town, Ntshona explains: “Yes they really are an issue; this is in issue we find in many top cities around the world. 

“To mitigate seasonality we look at different markets.

“The Indian market is great for us because when they have the monsoon season we have winter.

“Similarly with the Middle East when its 50° there they can come here.

“We also want repeat visitors, people come to Cape Town, Robben Island, and Table Mountain, but we want them to think what else is in our country.

“There is so much more!

“The more products we have, the longer people stay in the country.”

South Africa saw an increase of 14 per cent in domestic tourists last year, coupled to a 22 per cent increase of international visitors.

However, Ntshona was tentative when discussing this trend.

“It was a good recovery year,” he explains.

“The years 2014 and 15 were terrible for the whole continent. 

“The world decided that Africa was one country and when Ebola hit in West Africa all of Africa had Ebola; that really hit our economy.

“The fact that our currency was weak helped by giving us some momentum.

“It is strengthening a bit now and that is important, but we never want to market ourselves as a cheap destination.”

More Information

Indaba is one of the largest tourism marketing events on the African calendar and one of the top three must visit events of its kind on the global calendar.

It showcases the widest variety of Southern Africa’s best tourism products and attracts international buyers and media from across the world.

Find out more on the official website.

Eleanor Hawkins