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Interview with Medha Sampat, Country Head of South African Tourism

Medha Sampat has been the Country Head of South African Tourism in India for over a year. She shares with our readers why South Africa must be on your wishlist of must-visit destinations for sports holidays as well as for unique experiences.

How long have you been the Country Manager for South Africa Tourism and how has tourism to South Africa grown during your tenure?

In 2009, I was appointed as the Country Manager of South African Tourism for the India portfolio. India has always been an important market for South African Tourism. Initially we had aligned our promotional strategies to leverage events around fashion, food and wine to lure the Indian traveller. However, we soon identified Bollywood and sports as important drivers for tourism growth. With the support of the SAT team in India and South Africa, we defined our potential audience and reached out to them with targeted marketing tools in order to create awareness and excitement about the destination.

A smart combination of promotions, advertising and media-related activities, especially during the IPL tournament in South Africa, ensured that our audiences were sufficiently motivated, which further enhanced tourist arrivals to South Africa. With successful marketing and positioning strategies in India, we have seen a growth of 17.5%, with total tourist arrival of 61007 till December 2009. With the momentum now firmly in place, we are sure to carry through this growth curve till the end of the fiscal term.

What is the role of SA Tourism office and how do you go about creating awareness of South Africa amongst members of travel trade as well as potential travellers in general?

We at SA Tourism, play a pivotal role in opening new avenues to package South Africa in a unique format that can be used by tour operators to familiarize themselves on the destination. We have come a long way determining our priorities with regards to markets, based on size and growth potential. Our biggest strength when talking about South Africa to the Indian traveller is a thorough knowledge and understanding of their needs, requirements and travel patterns. We have been promoting our product by various activities with an aim to approach the right market and effectively convey the messages.

In India, leisure products travel through a complex network of intermediaries before reaching the end consumer. There are over 28000 tour operators and travel agencies distributed across India and they are an important group where awareness and education on the potential of the destination has to be impressed. Activities have to be conducted to reach out to the Indian travel-trade industry, provide impetus to existing operators and facilitate partnerships and synergies between Indian operators and their South African counterparts. Realizing this need, we set out to plan our activities for the year, and put in place goals to be achieved. Our calendar of events includes multi-city Roadshows, Incountry Famils, fam- trips, consumer promotions among many other exciting initiatives. Trade-based activities such as these help in expanding the operators’ base, increasing visibility and enhancing understanding of the destination.

What is the estimated growth you envisage out of India in 2010-11 as South Africa will be hosting two major sporting events later this year: the FIFA World Cup and the T20 Champions League?

South Africans’ passion for sport, its world class venues, top international events and well developed infrastructure combine to make the country a huge draw-card for sports fans. Sporting events like cricket and football help showcase our wonderful tourist attractions to billions of captive fans worldwide. They work to cement South Africa’s position as a premier sporting destination, apart from bringing in millions of dollars through the hospitality, travel and tourism sectors. Moreover, the indirect spin-offs from improved perceptions abroad could have an even greater, longer-lasting impact, not only on South Africa and its development but on the continent as a whole.

The contribution of sports tourism to the South African economy is estimated to be approximately ZAR 6 billion annually. The 2010 FIFA World Cup will result in anticipated injection of about ZAR 21.3 billion into the South African economy. We are confident of reaching our target arrivals of 65862 from India for 2010-11 and we hope that the mega sporting bonanza and the subsequent T20 Champions League alongwith similar such sporting events will encourage the Indian traveller to return time and again with family and friends to our beautiful Rainbow Nation.

How has Bollywood and sporting events helped enhance Brand South Africa amongst the Indian visitors?

Bollywood and sports, namely cricket and football have played a huge role in enhancing the visibility quotient that South Africa boasts of today in the Indian market. Sporting events like the inaugural ICC T20 World Cup in 2007, the IPL in 2009 and the ICC Champions Trophy 2009 have helped showcase the country’s scenic locales amidst the sporting action that gripped the world. Playing host to events of such great magnitude has also brought to light South Africa’s proficiency to host world class events.

Films, being such a mass culture in India help reach out to a wider audience and expand the target group – family, honeymoon and MICE segment. With Indian tourists being highly influenced by films and entertainment, South Africa has in its recent years attracted a lot of tourists with Bollywood movies. The country’s locales have benefited enormously from the use of its streets, landmarks and colorful locations.  In the recent past, we have seen some of the biggest Bollywood blockbusters set and shot extensively in South Africa. Clearly, Bollywood and sports have resulted in unprecedented coverage and awareness for brand South Africa.

What according to you is the minimum number of days one should spend to get a glimpse of South Africa, especially the first time traveller?

The average stay of an Indian tourist in South Africa is around 10 days, depending on the type of holiday experience that one is looking for, where one can choose amongst the major hot spots – Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. Wildlife safaris can be experienced across South Africa which is an experience by itself and a huge drawcard for Indian travellers.

Which are the Big 5 attractions that should be included for a visit to South Africa?

South Africa is a mesmerizing country with endless enchanting views but the big five attractions that should be included on a South African sojourn, should be:

The charismatic Table Mountain which is what the Western Cape Province is renowned for. Any person, who lays eyes on it is sure to fall for its powerful spell.

Second would be the Garden Route – Three of South Africa’s top hikes take place here – the Otter Trail, the Tsitsikama and Dolphin trails. It is a paradise for eco-lovers, bird watchers and solitude seekers.

Of course, who can forget the famous Jackass Penguins at Boulders Beach on the Cape Peninsula, near Cape Town which is a real thrill.

The Cradle of Humankind in the Gauteng province comprising a strip of a dozen dolomitic limestone caves containing the fossilized remains of ancient forms of animals, plants and most importantly, hominids tell a story of their own.

The fifth big attraction is the Kruger National Park with its abundant wildlife – hearing the roar of a lion out in the wild is a truly exhilarating experience!

What are the initiatives  taken by SA Tourism to educate the travel trade on Brand South Africa?

We have organized several activities in the past to expand our trade network here in India. Trade events like roadshows, incountry famils, the internationally renowned annual trade convention, Indaba amongst others have helped build strategic partnerships with our Indian trade partners. We have also introduced the Food Map along with our Adventure and Luxury Style Guides that have been effective blueprints for travel trade to understand South Africa’s offerings and help Indian travellers navigate better during their stay in South Africa. Our new training programme, “Learn South Africa”, will be implemented in 12 cities across India that will help travel industry representatives get a better understanding of South Africa as a destination and all its tourist attractions. The programme aims to help travel trade promote, plan and organise quality holidays to suit client requirements. This is a first for any tourism board, and we are proud to be setting the benchmarks for the industry.

There are several myths and apprehensions about South Africa – distance, safety, South Africa offers only wildlife. How do you plan to address these issues?

South Africa is as safe as any other destination in the world, provided you take some normal precautions like you would anywhere else as a tourist. Simply stay alert and be aware of what is going on around you and you will most likely enjoy a perfectly safe holiday. As for the rest of the misconceptions, whilst there is a continuous process of education that we undertake with the trade, who can deny that seeing is believing!

What according to you are the must-visit experiences to be included for visitors to South Africa on:

Honeymoon – South Africa is a Honeymooners haven and it would be incomplete with out paying a tribute to Cape Town and Cape Peninsula well known for world-class shopping, nightlife and some exquisite food and wine. One can enjoy a romantic candle light dinner at Robben Island, Table Mountain or the V & A Waterfront, an exceptionally romantic outing that will ensure you have a wonderful time with your spouse. Another interesting place to discover is Hermanus, where couples can traverse the magnificent Walker Bay that provides nature lovers with an extraordinary opportunity to explore the wonders of the Cape’s beautiful flora and fascinating coastal and marine life.

Adventure – Adventure activities in the Drakensberg region are sure to leave you gasping which include hiking trails, horse trails and safaris, fly fishing, white water rafting and rock climbing to mention but a few. Furthermore the Hot air ballooning in Mpumalanga and Bungy Jumping off the Bloukrans Bridge is sure to suffice your appetite for adventure. And there’s many more unique activities on offer for the adventure-seeker – the shark-cage diving offering fascinating encounters with the Great White Shark; the zip-line and the canopy tour to name just a few.

Family break – A shopping spree at The Gateway Mall (Durban), situated in Umhlanga, is reputed to be the largest shopping centre in the Southern Hemisphere. It has a wide variety of shops, a supermarket, over 30 restaurants and some unusual entertainment facilities. Fourways Mall shopping centre in Johannesburg is famous for fashion and also offers a number of elite jewellers with a choice of selected diamond and gold jewellery. If your family enjoys music, a visit to South Africa’s renowned musical show, Umoja will enthrall and captivate your heartbeats. Of course, the call of the wildlife during a game drive safari in the Kruger National Park is enjoyed by the young and old alike, and makes for a perfect family outing.

Special interests such as wine and golf – Combine your love of safari and your passion for golf at the savannah courses. And a glass of wine to celebrate a golf game will unquestionably be soothing to your soul. For which the Cape Winelands are the most scenic in the world with Pinotage and Hanepoort being made from specially cultivated grapes. Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc (steen) and Chardonnay are the buzz at the moment in South Africa and there’s plenty of options to enjoy these gourmet luxuries.

What according to you are the top 3 favourite teams for the 2010 FIFA World Cup?

There is a spirit of FIFA that is unmatched anywhere in the world. While Brazil, Italy and France are the hot favourites, all eyes are on the home team, Bafana Bafana this FIFA season to keep the trophy back home. All the countries have come together to showcase their best teams on a common platform. As the vuvuzelas (see photo below) herald the kick-off, we invite the world to bring on the games!

Which are the major sporting events and Bollywood shoots lined up for the future after the FIFA World Cup?

On cricket action, the T20 Champions League is scheduled to take place in South Africa in September this year. Also, the Indian team will tour South Africa in October-November to add to the cricket buzz. As for other sporting events, there is plenty more that keeps happening such as the ATP South African Open which see participating from the top stars of Indian tennis. On Bollywood, it would be difficult to pin down which movies are being shot there during the course of the year. But there is plenty of star-candy at any time in South Africa!

Indians are becoming more discerning as travellers. Which are some of the luxury and exclusive tourism products that one can experience only in South Africa?

Deep in the rugged bushveld, in the heart of an ancient volcano, lies the world’s most unique resort, the internationally acclaimed Sun City. The resort has a unique heartbeat and an African rhythm of its own and is unlike any other resort destination in the world. This is pure fantasy where your every desire is met. Apart from this if one wants to submit his mind and body for a complete revitalization process, then luxury spas in South Africa are rejuvenating havens to unwind. Karkloof Spa in Masunduzi, Lapologa in Pretoria and Mangwanani Private African Day Spa in Gauteng are just a few of the luxury doorways to experience eternal bliss. Many of our game lodges in the heart of the Kruger National Park like the Singita Game Reserve, the Earth Lodge at Sabi Sabi offer luxury unlimited. And these, are but a few that I mention!

Kruger National Park has become synonymous with the legendary Game Drives. What is it that makes a Game Drive in Kruger National Park so special and unique?

In a Kruger National Park safari you will be in awe with the plenty of Big Five sightings. At Kruger, one can experience South Africa’s wilderness in a self-drive safari, or relax and take in the sights on a guided wildlife tour, explore the bush on foot, stay in an exquisite tented camp or spend the night at a luxury lodge. A safari in Kruger National Park not only provides guests with the opportunity to encounter the wild but also allows for cultural interaction. The professional guides help you to identify the animals that grope in the dark and ensure that you will not miss the best game sightings. South Africa’s safari game lodges offer an unbeatable combination of game drives, walks with skilled trackers, and exclusive accommodation in pristine natural surroundings.

Which is your preferred destination in South Africa and what are the emerging places to visit for the Indian traveller?

As a travel destination, South Africa is uniquely placed because it offers something for everyone.

Depending on the type of holiday experience that one wants, one can go to the place of one’s choice in South Africa. If one wishes to experience a serene beach holiday, KwaZulu-Natal is the place to be, because of its favorable climate. Cape Town and Garden Route beckons the Indian traveller to get a glimpse of the scenic beauty. To experience wildlife and get lost in the ‘Land of Bushes’, one can visit the Limpopo Province or Mpumalanga and stay in one of the game reserves to experience the breathtaking safari. If night clubbing and culture is on one’s itinerary, then there is no better place than Johannesburg.

While Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban are among the top favourites in the globetrotter’s wish-list, other places in the Northwest province and Eastern Cape are also being explored.

What is your opinion of Namaste South Africa (www.namastesouthafrica.com) – a dedicated online platform for the Indian traveller to South Africa?

It is an interesting website, packed with lots of information and exciting visuals.

Lastly, your message to readers:

For all those sports enthusiasts, who want to experience an unforgettable adventure in the wild and not lose an opportunity of a lifetime, get ready with your backpacks and head to South Africa – a country where “It’s Possible!”

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In the Lap of the Wild: Kruger National Park

kruger lion

What do you associate most with South Africa?

There are no second guesses. It has to be wildlife.

And where wildlife is concerned there is no place in South Africa second to Kruger National Park.

Just for the numbers, Kruger has 114 species of reptiles, 147 species of mammals, 517 species of birds, and 1982 species of plants! We’re not talking about the number of animals or birds or plants here. We are talking about the number of species. No wonder then that the Kruger Park has more species of mammals than any other Park in Africa. In fact, it had such a huge population of elephants in 1995, that elephants were given contraceptives to reduce their birth rate!

Have a look at this video showing you what to expect at Kruger National Park.

Isn’t life in the wild beautiful?

Here are some interesting titbits about Kruger Park.

* * *

* We know the Kruger National Park is huge. How huge? Its area is approximately the same as the Indian state of Mizoram which is the same as Israel’s land area. It is literally a “wild country!”

* How old is Kruger? It was established 112 years ago by Paul Kruger. Yes, it is South Africa’s oldest National Park.

* How many Lions do you think the Kruger National Park has? The latest Census reports that there are 1500 lions, 5000 giraffes, 900 leopards, 3000 hippos and 7500 elephants at Kruger!

* Kruger has more than 13000 kilometers of roads running all through it.  The total length of roads in Israel, which has an equivalent area  is about 6500 km. The total length of roads in Mumbai is  about 1900 km. Well?

* The world’s longest ongoing research on wildlife is being conducted at Kruger Park.

* * *

In a world where we keep hearing “animal extinct” news every other day, Kruger seems like a breather.  When are you visiting? :)

By the way, you might like these reading through these  interesting “Kruger” travel itineraries. Do tell us what you think about them!

kruger lion

What do you associate most with South Africa?

There are no second guesses. It has to be wildlife.

And where wildlife is concerned there is no place in South Africa second to Kruger National Park.

Just for the numbers, Kruger has 114 species of reptiles, 147 species of mammals, 517 species of birds, and 1982 species of plants! We’re not talking about the number of animals or birds or plants here. We are talking about the number of species. No wonder then that the Kruger Park has more species of mammals than any other Park in Africa. In fact, it had such a huge population of elephants in 1995, that elephants were given contraceptives to reduce their birth rate!

Have a look at this video showing you what to expect at Kruger National Park.

Isn’t life in the wild beautiful?

Here are some interesting titbits about Kruger Park.

* * *

* We know the Kruger National Park is huge. How huge? Its area is approximately the same as the Indian state of Mizoram which is the same as Israel’s land area. It is literally a “wild country!”

* How old is Kruger? It was established 112 years ago by Paul Kruger. Yes, it is South Africa’s oldest National Park.

* How many Lions do you think the Kruger National Park has? The latest Census reports that there are 1500 lions, 5000 giraffes, 900 leopards, 3000 hippos and 7500 elephants at Kruger!

* Kruger has more than 13000 kilometers of roads running all through it.  The total length of roads in Israel, which has an equivalent area  is about 6500 km. The total length of roads in Mumbai is  about 1900 km. Well?

* The world’s longest ongoing research on wildlife is being conducted at Kruger Park.

* * *

In a world where we keep hearing “animal extinct” news every other day, Kruger seems like a breather.  When are you visiting? :)

By the way, you might like these reading through these  interesting “Kruger” travel itineraries. Do tell us what you think about them!


FIFA World Cup 2010. For The First Time in History…

March 31, 2010

africa(Image by by Martin23230, Wikipedia)

This World Cup has many firsts – and pretty interesting firsts they are. Shall we take a peek at what’s happening for the first time in history this summer?

* THE FIRST WORLD CUP IN AFRICA

The FIFA World Cup 2010, is the first ever World Cup to be held on African Soil. Africa was chosen as the host for the 2010 World Cup as part of a new policy to rotate the event among football confederations. South Africa competed with Morocco and Egypt and won hands down in the bid to host the Cup.

Here’s the magnificent Johannesburg stadium:

johannesburg stadium

* THE FIRST ‘MAN OF THE MATCH’ CHOSEN BY FANS

For the first time in the history of the World Cup FIFA won’t choose the man of the match for any World Cup game. You and I will. Fans all over the world will text their choices or submit them online during the game. And the man who has the highest votes from “us – the people” wins! Interesting? You bet.

* THE FIRST FAN SURVEY

There have been surveys before but none of this kind. CapeInfo.com has launched an online survey to better understand football fans all over the world. Why aren’t they coming for the World Cup? And if they are coming, what will be their travel itinerary? What are their concerns about the World Cup? How aware are they about South Africa? And the questions go on and on.

The results will be available online for everyone to see.

I don’t really understand the point of the survey but maybe it will help the organizers understand the point of view of audiences the world over. This might help in better organization of future events.

* THE FIRST ‘$ 400 MILLION PLUS’ PRIZE MONEY EVER

How much is the total prize money for this year’s World Cup? Take a guess… :)

A million?  10 Million? A 100 million perhaps?

Its $ 420 million. The highest ever prize money to be awarded in the history of sports. It is also an increase of 60 percent over the last World Cup’s prize money.

Everybody who participates wins a prize. In fact, each team exiting at the group stage receives $ 8 million!

dollar

* THE FIRST COMPLETE VIDEO GAME SIMULATION

The same players with the exact same faces. The same stadiums. The same crowd. The same sounds. It’s so real – you’re stumped.

For the first time since football was first played, a game that simulates the World Cup down to the smallest detail has been launched. EA sports has launched the 2010 FIFA World Cup Video Game.

The 199 teams that took part in the 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers will be in the game.

Players can play against other players through online gaming services like Playstation Network or XBox Live or they can play against the computer.

Here’s a video about this game:

* THE FIRST WORLD CUP IN 3D

Movies in 3D are amazing. The effects seem so real! What if the World Cup action was brought to you LIVE in 3 D? How may “Wows” would you shout out?

This time 25 of the World Cup games are going to be filled using 3D cameras.  The Sony Corporation has arranged for these special cameras.

Whatever else we may be unsure of, what we cannot deny is this is going to be a fascinating World Cup in South Africa. What say you?


For Those Who Think Soccer Fans are Crazy

March 29, 2010

In a world where Soccer is the dominant religion, there exists a small minority of “nerds”, “geeks” and simply “I don’t want soccer” weirdos who aren’t exactly awaiting the World Cup in South Africa. I am one of them. :)

This year, however, for people like us, there IS something to look forward to in South Africa. It’s the Knysna Oyster Festival.

This festival, which will be held from July 2 to 11, 2010 (yes, despite the World Cup!) promises interesting events like the Navigation Drift Dive Challenge ( a scuba diving adventure), The Night of a 1000 Pictures ( a fascinating photography exhibition), the Wade Bales Wine Festival , the Geo Oyster Geocaching Competition (a fun adventure involving navigating around the Knysna basin), a Forest Marathon and hoards of other food, wine, adventure and sports events!

And guess what, Knysna Tourism has been working with its members to ensure that there will be accommodation available at reasonable rates over the period of the Oyster Festival! This means that despite the sky rocketing prices because of the World Cup – you will still be able to find reasonably priced hotels if you make it to the event. Cool.

Here’s a video of the Mountain Biking event in the festival. Enjoy. :)

If you love to experience new cuisines and fine wine, you might also love reading through this food and wine write-up!

Ah, there is still hope for the world. ;)


75 More Days: The Stadiums are DONE.

March 27, 2010

A Reuters report on March 26, said South Africa has declared all 10 World Cup Venues to be ready for the FIFA 2010 event. A FIFA inspection tour was held and all is well with the stadiums that will host the biggest event ever held in Africa.

Here’s a video that tells you about each stadium!

I found three very interesting facts about the stadiums.

* The Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg is the largest stadium in Africa. (That’s something.) It has the capacity to seat 94000 spectators. Interestingly, this is where Nelson Mandela gave his first speech after being released from prison.

* The Mbombela Stadium near Nelspruit is unique – it has 18 giraffe shaped roof supports! That is not all: the spectator stands have also been painted in zebra colours! And where is the stadium located? Very near the world famous Kruger National Park. No wonder it is wild. :) Here’s a picture by Chris Onderstall:

south africa wild stadium

* The Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg is unique too – the outside of the stadium has been designed to look like an African pot! The cladding and colours are such that there seems to be fire under the African pot. Cool. :) Another fascinating feature of this stadium’s design is that no spectator in the stadium will be more than 100 metres away from the action.

It’s 75 days more to go…:) And then the action will begin.

Click here to learn a bit more about the country that’s hosting it all.


Taj, Cape Town is Now Open!

March 25, 2010

There’s now another Indian Connection to South Africa (apart from Namaste South Africa ;) ) – Taj, Cape Town. On March 20, 2010, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces announced the opening of Taj, Cape Town. Yes, the famous ‘Taj hospitality’ can now be enjoyed by Capetonians and visitors to South Africa!

Lets look at some interesting facts about this new hotel:

* On the very day of its opening, all its 177 rooms have been booked. That says something about the credibility of the “Taj” brand.

* The five star hotel has been built at a cost of R500-million with contributions from Taj, Tata Africa and Eurocape.

* The hotel is located near the city centre and  has been built around two historic buildings. It took 2 years of construction and renovation of the historic buildings to build the hotel.

* The hotel offers 11 different types of rooms – all unique in their own way. There are Heritage rooms in the newly restored buildings and Tower rooms that provide an exquisite view of the Table Mountain. There is even a Presidential Suite which has 2 bedrooms, a massage and steam room, a fully equipped kitchen, office, gym and a top floor deck!

* As part of its introductory offer, The Taj, Cape Town is offering a special R 3500 (USD 474) room for two people including breakfast.

Here’s a video about the hotel.

I would love to stay in the Taj, Cape Town. :) What about you?


5 Things About South Africa That’ll Make You Say, “Wow.”

March 24, 2010

We’ve always known South Africa is amazing. That’s not the question. But did you know…

1 That South Africa has penguins?

Boulders Beach in the Cape Peninsula, South Africa has about 3000 penguins which can be observed from close quarters!

The first pair of penguins was brought here in 1982 and after that there has definitely been no looking back.

Here’s a picture of one these intriguing creatures.

2 That you can pet Cheetahs in South Africa?

Now we’ve always known South Africa is a treasure trove of wildlife. That’s no secret. But petting ?

Near Cape Town, there is a place where you can pet and caress a cheetah for a small fee! Here’s a picture of Namaste South Africa founder Subhash with a cheetah.

pet a cheetah

3 That South Africa’s premier city Cape Town has been rated the “World’s best city” by Telegraph?

Yes, Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It has a table mountain right next to its stunning waterfront.

But who would have expected it to beat Sydney and San Fransisco in the race for the “World’s Best City”? But that’s that! Acclaimed  London Newspaper Telegraph says its the best.

Here’s a picture of Cape Town’s Table Mountain.

south africa table mountain

4 That South Africa has the world’s best hotel?

The Singita game reserve, near Kruger National Park, was voted the best hotel in the world by the readers of a leading travel magazine (Conde Nast Traveler). Cool!

5 That South Africa has a bar constructed right inside a tree?

The Northern Province of South Africa is famous for baobab trees. And Tzaneen in this province has an entire bar located inside the tree. How does it feel inside this bar? I haven’t really been to that bar, but it must be fun!

Here’s a baobab tree by the way.

baobab south africa

South Africa is enticing.

Until next time, Good Bye from Namaste South Africa. :)