Can PR in the Travel and Tourism Sector Boost Ailing Economies?

As world and business leaders around the globe gaze in astonishment at the Euro Zone crises and subsequent fall out for citizens and companies alike, it is no surprise that the travel and tourism sector in the United Kingdom (UK) are recommending PR support to boost economies in hard-hit nations such as Greece.

The Association of Independent Tour Operators and the Federation of Tour Operators in the UK have put their weight behind an open letter to the Greek prime minister, in a bid to persuade the government to use PR to deal with the country’s tarnished image to boost the economy, in the wake of their pecuniary meltdown and public riots.

The Greek National Tourism Organisation has not historically made use of PR services but publicly stated that it is certainly one of the options they are considering as visitor figures continue to plummet.

As a communications professional I have to wonder why the Greek government needs persuasion.  I’m proud to say that perhaps the Greek parliament should refer to South Africa’s success in using marketing and communications to effectively manage its reputation and increase visitor figures – all in the pursuit of job creation and a sustainable travel sector.

For starters, South Africa’s tourism sector has grown robustly since it successfully rebranded itself as a top sightseeing destination, especially among business travellers.

South Africa’s Tourism Minister, Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, speaking at the World Tourism and Travel Council trade show in Sendai and Tokyo earlier this month, said South Africa was outperforming other countries in the tourism despite the economic downturn.

According to a survey released by Pretoria’s Department of Tourism on 12 March 2012, South Africa welcomed more than 8.3 million visitors last year, topping the previous record set when it hosted the World Cup soccer tournament in 2010.

Its current numbers present a stark contrast to the fewer than 500,000 it chalked up in 1994, the year its long-reviled apartheid system was abolished and Nelson Mandela elected as the nation’s first black president.

While South Africa is still struggling with a host of serious issues, especially sky-high rates of crime, unemployment, HIV and AIDS, its tourism sector remains buoyant. Especially pleasing are the numbers of repeat visitors.

Cape Town, the country’s legislative capital, was ranked the top travel destination in a survey conducted last year by, a U.S.-based travel website, beating New York, Paris, London, Rome and Rio de Janeiro, among other locations.

Van Schalkwyk said this was not solely down to the spill-over effect of hosting the World Cup, and highlighted the promotion of its world-class convention centres to boost business tourism.

Last year, tourism accounted for about 8% of South Africa’s estimated $363 billion gross domestic product.  Lastly, South Africa is expecting 15 million tourists to visit in 2020, generating an additional $50 billion for our economy.  Surely this kind of revenue would be welcome in the homeland of Aristotle?

By Kim Hudson, FH Associate Director