Innovative marketing to counter tourism budget cut

The pandemic has brought forth a number of challenges including budget cuts aimed at stretching resources to save lives by redirecting funds towards the fight against the spread of the Coronavirus. Tourism as a job enabler has to still keep afloat and stay top of mind during this difficult time to domestic tourists by marketing the experiences and offerings of Eastern Cape. The Eastern Cape has become well established on many platforms that cater to our desired markets and withdrawal from these platforms due to budget cuts may make it difficult to re-establish the destination. The challenge is thus around achieving the balance on the necessity to prioritise COVID, and using innovation to maximise limited budgets so as to sustain the sector.

ECPTA in a bid to assist during these times has for example complied to the cutting of the travel and S&T budget for the provincial tourism agency by 45%, a quick win really as there was no travelling during the lockdown. It made perfect sense to forfeit a portion of the travel budget for the COVID fight as has been the case for other provinces who forfeited similarly. The province has also lost almost 35% of its tourism budget , making it very difficult to continue with business as usual approaches. Above, marketing the destination, ECPTA also manages provincial nature reserves (facilities for travellers and tourists) and during this period revenue generation from the nature reserves and their related activities like game auctions also took a knock.

The above challenges have seen private sector and government come together to support one another including entities like SAT, messaging for example around offerings is aligned to optimise on SAT resources. SAT’s coordination with all the provincial CEOs also ensures that we share our resources wisely – that the little we each have collectively achieves a massive amount of good will on the ground. Such coordination by SAT is well underway and is evident through initiatives like the support of SMMEs via mechanisms like the Relief Fund that provides an aspect of relief for potential revenue losses.

ECPTA has developed a recovery plan, one of the pillars of which is prioritising business support to comply with the protocols. Some product owners are struggling to obtain sanitisers and PPE. Some have issues reconfiguring their facilities to meet regulations. The situation that the more rural product owners find themselves in can be even more challenging. Which is why the recovery plan includes tailor-made support from a protocol compliance point of view because each product will require something different. In the provincial context, we are mobilising that support by requesting funding from provincial government to intervene. We have forwarded this request to the cabinet as part of our recovery plan, tabled it in the relevant structures and there is buy-in. We are however debating the extent to which this will be supported as there are competing priorities. Also, recovery is not going to be a quick fix. The pandemic is now in its fourth month, but the recovery for tourism is something that will drag us for the next two or three years. Our budget requests, in terms of the recovery, take this into account.

Marketing is another pillar with the focus on coordinating our marketing efforts better and rapidly move towards 4IR smart marketing. From a social media perspective, destination Eastern Cape must be top of tourists’ minds. Marketing the province’s routes and how the products align with those particular routes provides product owners with the opportunity to market themselves. The entire sector is bleeding, but the pandemic has brought us together. At all of the sessions, meetings and webinars we have conducted, I find the sector more coordinated in its effort. There’s an appreciation of the lack of resources. We will continue to closely cooperate and collaborate with the private sector to ensure that all available funds are spent wisely – for the benefit of the industry. If we collaborate, we will be able to save tourism.