How South African Tourism has used influencers to promote the country

Tourist board South African Tourism has revealed how it has used digital influencers to help promote the destination – driving a boom in UK visitor numbers.

Celebrities, bloggers and vloggers, traditional media and travel agents on fam trips to the country all form part of SAT’s strategy – which was revealed to Travolution.

The rise of influencers has been seen by some commentators as the next big trend in the travel industry this year.

“Anyone that has a voice and has followers in our demographic that we can use to get our message out and generate content for us,” said Tolene van der Merwe, country manager for the UK at South African Tourism.

Tolene van der Merwe, of South African Tourism
Tolene van der Merwe, of South African Tourism

“It’s instant,” she added. “Which is a reflection on the world now. Everything is quite instant these days. They are posting saying they are right here right now, and that works for us.”

“Their followers and consumers trust them.”

SAT last year sent six influencers to the country and split them up into three pairs to explore different areas; the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and the wildlife areas of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park.

Since blogging and vlogging have become accepted jobs, and influencers are now asking for payment for their services, SAT has moved to make sure they get content rights in return.

Photographs and videos from the travellers who are hosted by the tourism board are made available to SAT to be used in following marketing campaigns, whether digital, on television or elsewhere.

“That gives us two bites of the cherry,” van der Merwe added. “They come back with some of the most mesmerising content that we can work with and use.”

Last February, SAT gave two bloggers – Hand Luggage Only – a “modest” budget to travel South Africa in a bid to show its good value for money proposition. While in the destination, they tagged local businesses they visited with the #RollingInRands campaign hashtag. “The budget we gave them allowed them to be constantly busy every day,” said van der Merwe. “Which reinforces our message.”

But they don’t take any old blogger. Influencers are vetted for their, well, influence. That is not only how many followers they have, but their engagement levels on social media too.

“You can have 10 million followers but if you only post occasionally it’s not worth as much as someone with less followers and more activity.”

Digital content has also allowed South Africa to reach more potential tourists. They’ve used 360° video to showcase some popular tourist activities in the country, such as paragliding, and last year ran a photo competition with Lumix where the winner won camera that the marketing photo was taken on.

But influencers are not simply bloggers and vloggers, celebrities count too – and often have an even wider reach.

This Morning host Phillip Schofield recently visited the country and, as a keen Twitter bean, that helped SAT reach his four million-plus followers as well as slots on the popular breakfast show.

Phillip Schofield enjoys South African wine and a book on his trip to the country
Phillip Schofield enjoys South African wine and a book on his trip to the country

“It’s a loud voice for us,” van der Merwe said. “He posed clips of himself having so much fun. You could tell he loved every minute and on social media it’s not edited, it’s real life.”

Pop star Kym Marsh also flew to Cape Town, where she blogged, posted photos and tweeted from the country.

And the traditional media are not left out either. When a GQ writer came on board a trip of fashion influencers with airline KLM, it was picked up in the local media that South Africa was being touted as a fashion capital in the American publication.

Travel agents are also getting in on the influencing action, with more fam trips planned for travel experts in 2017. Agents are expected to post their experiences on social media while learning new selling tips for the destination.

And the stats show that the use of influencers in working. There may be other factors at play, such as the weak Rand and people looking for experiential travel and avoiding other tourist areas for geo-political reasons, but visitor numbers to South Africa are up.

International visitor numbers rose 18% from January to November 2016, while there was a 11.8% growth in UK visitors in the same period.

“The world is changing so drastically we have to change with it,” said van der Merwe.

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