• Friday, March 01, 2024
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BusinessDay

Evelyn Mahlaba: South African Tourism’s ‘face of Africa’

Her smile is infectious and her personality is loveable. Evelyn Mahlaba, fondly called Evy by friends and close associates, is South African Tourism’s new regional director for Africa. She is very passionate about the development of the continent’s tourism market. And she says “tourism is a crucial driver of the second economy, it is one of the pillars that can help address poverty.”

She says while most people perceive the African traveller as different from the European, American or British traveller, and they assume they have specific travel requirements, however, a research conducted by SAT shows they are not different.  According to her, all visitors to South Africa want the same things: a destination that offers good value, great services and enchanting stories.

“An African traveller who visits South Africa – whether for business or for pleasure – wants the same things from their trip as everyone else and spends their money on the same things too,” she explains.

She says part of her day-to-day responsibilities will be working with the African travel market and gaining insight into which travellers are more likely to come to South Africa, and what will inspire and move them to do so.

‘Using insights from our strategic research unit, I’ll define strategies to help grow our footprint into the continent and will engage with the trade in enabling them to sell our country in a manner that is preferred by consumers,’ she says.

‘I’m aiming to firmly establish our first standalone office in Nigeria, and I’ll be travelling to Lagos often to ensure that the team there is on a par with the rest of the South African Tourism family and has all the necessary tools it needs to sell South Africa.’

Evelyn-Mahlaba

Addition she explains that Africa is the next frontier for tourism regardless of what the world thinks. “We can’t underestimate the potential of the African travel market. The World Bank has indicated an expectation of rapid growth in Africa from now till 2030. My aim is to capitalise on that market share and drive development on the continent that sees travel become a currency among Africans,” she says.

With continental travel patterns that indicate movement all year round, and a local trade with the potential to deliver, Mahlaba’s vision of an intercontinental travel economy isn’t far off.

The national tourism budget has injected additional funds into marketing South Africa as a prime destination in Africa – the Tourism Department is serious about continental development.

“Our African core markets currently include Nigeria, Angola, Kenya and the DRC, with Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana as secondary markets,” she says.

She also says she has resolved to working with the trade partners by organizing workshops for product and trade to help deliver an effective African sales model are in the pipeline. Some of the dates for the provisional workshop include: Tanzania: 1 to 4 October at the Tanzania Expo, Kenya: 8 to 10 October at the Magical Kenya Exhibition, Angola: 9 to 12 October at the BITUR Okavango Tourism Trade Fair and Nigeria: 26 to 28 October, 2014. According to her, SAT will be exhibiting at these events

“We rely on the trade to present the face of our country and fulfil the promise we make to markets. We want to assure them that we are engaging with our stakeholders to manage the current barriers to promoting tourism, which include issues around visas and airlifts and the recent Ebola outbreak,’ she adds.

Mahlaba who is inspired by making a positive contribution to the betterment of her people and country says her message is one of hope. “‘My wish is for the industry to recognise the potential that travellers from Africa represent, in all forms. We currently have a few individuals who operate in the market – my aim is to grow the pool. I believe that developing the trade on the continent will help us mitigate economic risks, such as those being encountered in the Western world.”

While speaking on her favourite restaurant, she says: “living in Jozi one is spoiled for choice with restaurants, however I enjoy cooking for friends and entertaining at home. And her ultimate travel destination is the jewel of the Eastern Free State – Clarens, situated in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains.” This is where I get in touch with my roots as a Mosotho from Jozi,” she says.