New CEO of South African Tourism meets the media

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Chairman of the South African Tourism board, Jabu Mabuza, introduced the country's marketing organisation's new CEO Thandiwe January-McLean to the media at its head office in Johannesburg this morning. January-McLean joined SA Tourism on 18 January and says she has been given a warm welcome and much support and guidance from acting CEO and COO Didi Moyle, as well as the team at SA Tourism.

January-McLean has taken up the position at a very busy time in tourism, with the 2010 Fifa World Cup around the corner. Her initial focus is on learning more about the industry and meeting public and private role players.

Her two most recent positions as ambassador to Portugal and deputy director-general of the Department of Arts and Culture have given her good grounding in the travel and tourism market in general. She hopes to see the Department of Arts and Culture play a bigger role in tourism in future.

The organisation has taken the strategic decision to invest heavily in regional, continental and emerging markets, January-McLean explains. Although the organisation will continue its work in the non-continental markets, arrivals from African countries are growing and offer a lucrative source of arrivals for the industry.

The organisation has almost doubled its marketing budget for the Africa markets - from R30-million in the present financial year to R55-million for the upcoming financial year.

Angolan visitors reportedly spend more money in South Africa (R24 000 per visitor on average) than any other visitor from any other market in the world. Arrivals from Angola are also growing strongly, with almost 12% (11.9% actual) growth in arrivals for the period January to October 2009.

She adds: "We are determined to give this market the attention it deserves. We will appoint a trade relations manager in Angola soon. This person will work with stakeholders and travel agents to protect and grow South Africa's market share there."

Nigeria is also another major focus, with more work being done in that growing market. SA Tourism is working on establishing Nigeria as a marketing base to service the entire region.

Marketing South Africa to the rest of Africa is often limited by insufficient airlift (including lack of frequency and limited size of aircraft) and problems with access and visas, says Moyle. They are working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Home Affairs to help solve some of these issues.

January-McLean would like to see the industry and national bodies collaborating more and working together to grow arrivals, to ensure that tourism has a positive impact on economic growth and job creation.

Another challenge across Africa is a less developed travel trade industry. While it is possible to invite dozens of top tour operators from Europe and the US to experience South Africa, this is not generally possible in Africa where staff numbers are much smaller. However, SA Tourism does host annual visits and is looking for new ways to package the country in an interactive format that can be used by tour operators to familiarise themselves on South Africa.

The organisation has also significantly increased its investment in the India and China markets, which enjoyed growth of 18% and 10% respectively in 2009. The marketing budget for China is being increased by 20% and for India by 50% in the upcoming financial year.

The current focus of SA Tourism is the upcoming Indaba 2010. Indaba will have a strong World Cup focus this year, and Meetings Africa later in February will show the global business tourism community how hosting the World Cup has enhanced South Africa's conferences, meetings and association hosting capability.

SA Tourism also used the opportunity to discuss the sensitive issue of reported price hiking for the World Cup and urged the industry to reconsider doing anything that will cast the country in a poor light and make it more difficult to market in future. They believe price gouging is limited to isolated cases where people are possibly new to the industry and therefore not aware of the long-term repercussions of short-term gains.

After 2010, the organisation plans to "go out there and claim victory". They believe the country can ride the wave of its 2010 success for as long as they can make it relevant for the industry.

Prior to her position at the Department of Arts and Culture, January-McLean was the chief executive of The College Fund/UNCF, South Africa. She was responsible for managing and directing the Tertiary Education Linkages Project(TELP), which is funded by the US International Development Agency.

Prior to the UNCF (between 1994 and 1998) she was executive director of the Desmond Tutu Educational Trust where she was responsible for the overall administration of the Trust, fundraising, public relations, human resource development and programme implementation.

January-McLean was born in Kimberley and has two daughters. She has a Bachelors Degree in English and Sociology from the National University of Lesotho (1977) and an MA from Carleton University, Ottawa Canada (1980). She is a Salzburg Fellow - a fellowship funded by the Kellogg Foundation for the purpose of strengthening the skills base of individuals in the public sector internationally.

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